Cellphone masts and property value

Private Property South Africa
Jackie Gray-Parker

Cellphone masts have attracted controversy due to the perceived health risks and impact on property value. We take a look at the issue.

Around the world, cellphone mast installations appear to have attracted controversy due largely to the perceived health risks. Both those for and against mast installations have strong arguments which ‘prove’ their case. There have also been heated debates around the impact such installations have on property values.

From a property perspective, the issue seems to revolve largely around the proximity of mast installations and aesthetics. Chantelle Dickinson of Harcourts Rhino says that in her experience, the issue of cellphone masts hasn’t really been a problem but that others in her office have occasionally experienced difficulties when trying to sell properties close to cellphone masts due to the perceived health risks and “visual pollution.”

Whether or not the health issues associated with cellphone masts are real, the reality is that there does appear to be a somewhat negative perception of cellphone masts which, if the various studies and surveys are to be believed, negatively influences people’s attitudes towards properties which lie within close proximity of such installations.

A survey conducted by the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy in 2014 is a case in point. Entitled ‘Neighbourhood Cell Towers and Antennas – Do They Impact a Property’s Desirability?’, it was circulated online via various platforms in America and ‘other countries’. It sought to determine if cellphone towers and antennas or wireless antennas placed on top of or on the side of a building would impact a home buyer’s or renter’s interest in a property. Approximately 1000 people responded to the survey.

According to the survey, the majority of respondents (94%) reported that cell towers and antennas in a neighbourhood or on a building would impact interest in a property and the price they would be willing to pay for it. Additionally, 79% said under no circumstances would they ever purchase or rent a property within a few blocks of a cell tower or antenna. Although hardly comprehensive or conclusive, the survey does point to a distinct perceptual bias.

Locally, residents in Constantia clearly weren’t interested in taking any chances. Following the installation of a mast in 2014 which was given the green light by the City of Cape Town, the residents marched, signed petitions, launched websites and met with cellphone company executives to explain their objections. The building approval for the mast has subsequently been set aside by the Western Cape High Court.

In terms of the process relating to the installation of cellphone masts, a representative of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) briefly explained that entities who wish to install masts have to obtain municipal approval before proceeding.

For those who wish to oppose the installation of a mast, Electromagnetic Radiation South Africa (EMRSA) outlines the following:

  • Engage with the landowner and discuss your concerns
  • Engage with your council: If you received documentation from your council alerting you to an installation, use the contact details listed. You could also request a copy of the local policy regarding the installation of masts
  • Engage with the cellphone operators responsible for the installation
  • Alert your neighbours
  • Activism: This can take the form of a petition, protests and letters to the media
  • Education: Know what you’re talking about
  • Be prepared for the long haul

The full details can be viewed at www.emrsa.co.za/how-can-we-oppose-a-cellphone-tower-installation/

It’s clear that the issue of cellphone mast installations is a controversial one. What isn’t clear is the ‘impact’ on health and property which has yet to be fully defined. It will undoubtedly be a debate that continues for some time to come.

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