Hardly a week goes by that someone does not ask me “What can I do if a drone flies or hovers over my property?” or the converse, “What restrictions are there on my operation of a drone over private property?”.
From inexpensive toys to advanced recording equipment, drones are now being used throughout both residential neighborhoods and commercial spaces. However, the legality of drone usage over private property has become somewhat muddled. Many drone owners aren’t certain whether their drone or drones can fly in private airspace — while homeowners and business owners are perplexed by their options.
Most Laws Implicated by Hovering Over Private Property Are Not Drone Specific
Widespread drone usage is a relatively new phenomenon. Although some state and local governments have enacted laws regulating drone usage, in many areas of the United States there are few if any state or local laws regulating drone usage. Because of this, most legal issues regarding drones are based on case law decided long before drones became an issue. In other words, a neighbor or a drone operator is not likely to get a definitive answer regarding whether their drone usage is legal.
…But That Doesn’t Mean There’s No Recourse
Simply because there are few laws that specifically written to address operating drones over private property, that doesn’t mean that such operations are lawful. Rather, it means that issues with drones generally fall under different sets of laws. As examples:
Drones with cameras may be found to be invasions of privacy. Though it is legal to use a camera in a public space, filming someone in the privacy of their own home (such as through their window) where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy is generally not legal. Thus, though the action of “using a drone and a camera” might not be illegal, using it in certain ways can be.
Drones may be considered to be a private nuisance. A drone that is repeatedly “buzzing” someone within their yard or is found to be hovering close to their home could be considered a nuisance — or even considered to be harassment if the individual is being targeted. Again, in this case it is not the drone itself that is illegal, but the actions being taken with the drone.
Drones, like any tool, they can be used in an illegal fashion. The legal system is still playing “catch up” with laws that are directly related to private airspace and drone usage, but many of the potentially harassing, damaging, or frustrating actions that could be taken by drones already are illegal under existing law.
Accordingly, being considerate of your neighbors is important, not just for drone operations, but for a civilized society.