Drone Use in Real Estate Sparks Privacy Debate

While our recent story “Can Drones Make a Difference in Real Estate?” focused on the use of drones in real estate to showcase homes for sale, it didn’t address the growing concern of privacy and homeowner airspace rights.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates the commercial, governmental, and private use of drones. Currently, its regulations focus on safety rather than privacy and have proposed a collection of rules to make standard for operational limitations, operator certification and responsibilities, and aircraft requirements.

Would you be surprised to know that of the first 500 commercial drone permits granted by the Federal Aviation Administration, real-estate businesses won nearly a third of those permits. The most popular use — showcasing properties with video taken from the air — accounted for 153 of the early permits granted by the FAA beginning in September, according to the study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.

And not surprisingly California leads the country in businesses using drones with 70 in California, 46 in Texas, 40 in Florida, 18 in Illinois and 17 in Arizona.

There are currently few federal regulations governing snooping by drones, and it’s unclear how a patchwork of state laws will apply to unmanned aerial vehicles. A firearm is probably the wrong way to protect our privacy against invasion by drones, but it remains to be seen whether the law will give property owners better options.

The organization Know Before You Fly helps hobbyists, businesses, and public entities alike understand what they can and can’t do with drones. Legislation pertaining to privacy hasn’t been addressed by the FAA and is being left up to states. The incident in Kentucky in which the man shot down a drone “hovering” in his backyard has sparked the privacy debate once again.

Last month, the U.S. National Telecommunication and Information Administration hosted talks to address the drones and privacy issue. Nothing has been resolved as of yet. California has addressed the issue with the passing of SB 142, a bill that would ban drones from flying over private property at distances under 350 feet without consent.

The bill has met opposition from both privacy advocates and drone enthusiasts, as it’s impractical and would be difficult to enforce and it would hinder the drone industry, and the jobs and innovation it creates, much of which is concentrated in the Bay Area.

Others have advocated that homeowners should have a right to the immediate airspace above their homes. Despite all the current regulations and the gray areas, drones are big in the real estate industry. The National Association of Realtors even has a page entitled “Drones – Frequently Asked Questions” where Realtors can find information on drones and related legislation as they pertain to the real estate industry.

What is clear is that a debate is brewing and questions that need to be addressed include:

What rights do you have to the airspace above your home?       

What can you legally do to stop a drone from hovering over your residence?

What do you think about privacy issues when using drones in real estate?  We’d love to hear from you.