Some of the hottest and fastest-evolving technologies in the world right now are related to drones. Drones are seen at big news events, concerts, political rallies and more – places where a “bird’s eye view” is desired. They are great for taking crowd shot photos, recording parades, mapping and surveying and much more. They are used by farmers, real estate agents, insurance adjustors, event promoters and others. Of course, they’re also popular with hobbyists who already love other remote-controlled aircraft.
“Last holiday season, drones were one of the hottest gift items across North America,” said Edwin Lugo, vice president for FirstService Residential. “We’re seeing a lot of challenges with this increasingly popular hobby. The key is education, and the perseverance to stay updated on the issue as the legal landscape continues to evolve.”

Drones also come with challenges. Keep these things in mind when considering the rules your association adopts regarding use of drones, whether by the association or by homeowners:

1. For now, recognize that it’s up to the appropriate government agencies.

For the most part, the proper use of drones is dictated by government agencies, not local communities or homeowners’ associations. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has set forth guidelines for both hobbyists and commercial drone pilots. Drones are classified as small unmanned aircraft regulated by the same rules that govern remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters.

There’s also a patchwork of additional state laws that have taken effect. In Florida, the state has chosen to focus on the protection of privacy and appropriate use of drones in creating statutes that regulate drone use, leaving safety matters to the FAA. For details on how the state defines who can and cannot use drones, and for what purposes, go the Florida Department of Transportation website.
Overall, the National Council of State Legislatures reports that 45 states debated 168 bills regarding drones in 2015 alone. The FAA is pushing for uniform, national codes without additional provisions set forth by states.

2. If you’re in the U.S., know the FAA’s rules.

Being aware of FAA regulations will help you know when a drone operator is acting within his or her rights, or if you should call the local law enforcement.

Generally speaking, the FAA restricts the use of drones within five miles of any regulated airspace, including any helipads or heliports. “That includes roughly 85% of airspace in Florida, including downtown areas with the numerous helipads,” Lugo said. 

If you plan to fly within that five miles, you must contact the airport or air traffic control tower before flying. Download the FAA’s B4UFLY Smartphone App for additional guidance and information about whether or not you are in a “clear” area for flying.

Rules for hobbyists flying drones:

  • Pilots must be at least 13 years of age and register the drone by providing their name, home address and e-mail address to the FAA. The FAA says flying a drone without registering it could cost you up to $27,500 in civil penalties, $250,000 in criminal penalties and three years in prison.
  • Do not carry any hazardous materials.
  • The drone cannot be flown higher than 400 feet above ground level, and flights are limited to daytime hours (thirty minutes before sunrise and thirty minutes after sunset).
  • A pilot may only operate one drone at a time and it must be within line of sight at all times.

Rules for commercial drone pilots:

  • Daytime restrictions apply, and the drone must be kept within the pilot’s visual line of sight during operation.
  • Pilots must be at least 16 years of age.
  • Pilots must obtain a remote pilot certificate.
These are just the major points of the FAA’s regulations. You can find a complete list of rules here.

3. Keep privacy in mind at all times.

A chief concern about drones, for community residents, is privacy, particularly involving drones that are equipped with cameras and other imaging or surveillance equipment.

The FAA takes a hands-off approach on this issue, citing their role as a body that ensures safety, not privacy. The State of Florida has enacted rules on citizen privacy, including that law enforcement agencies must generally have a warrant before conducting drone surveillance, but not regarding private use and image capture; personal photography by hobbyists is explicitly permitted.

Most experts agree that existing privacy or “peeping Tom” laws apply to drones as well. Due to the increase in drone use, your community association Board may decide to adopt a rule or implement a rule change that addresses drone use to ensure residents’ security and privacy. If drone use is permitted within your association, your Board should consider the most appropriate areas and time of day for drone use. Your association should also contact an insurance agency to ensure proper coverage should a drone fall and damage a common area or harm someone in the community.
When hobbyists are responsible and respectful, residents and pilots can coexist harmoniously. By staying updated on the issue – and being informed of your rights as a resident or Board member – you can respond appropriately when regulations aren’t followed. For more information about how new legislation could affect your community, contact FirstService Residential, Florida’s leading property management company.
Monday September 26, 2016