With so many of us working and doing schoolwork at home full-time due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, we may notice something we never have before – the frequency of drones flying over our property.
This may raise questions, including what we can do if we see or hear a drone flying over our home and are uncomfortable with it for safety or privacy reasons.
While it is certainly not advisable to shoot down any drones, homeowners are not without rights. Among other things, if a drone user is in violation of the laws governing or affecting drones, a homeowner can file a lawsuit against the wrongdoer – and pursue applicable claims for trespass, private nuisance, or invasion of privacy, depending on the case.
In today’s world, drones have become a staple of the community. Unfortunately, like any technology, there are those who will use it for less-than-noble purposes such as spying on someone or secretly obtaining information for a wrongful purpose.
Although drones can be entertaining and can further any number of legitimate objectives, it is important to ensure that one does not intentionally or unintentionally violate the law when either using or interacting with a drone.
The increasing popularity of drones has also invoked privacy concerns among many homeowners who do not want a neighbor or other person using a drone or video camera to videotape the homeowners in their yard, swimming pool, or perhaps even worse, in their home.
The legal issue in these cases is whether the aggrieved homeowner has an expectation of privacy in a particular area. This question can turn on the individual facts of each case, but someone probably does not have an expectation of privacy in their front or even backyard (for instance, most common boundary walls in Arizona communities are only 6 feet tall).
At a bare minimum, anyone operating a drone should always be aware of and follow the laws that apply to drones and their use. These laws are updated frequently, so it is important for drone users to stay informed about the most current regulations.
It is unlawful to operate a drone in a manner that interferes with a law enforcement, firefighter or emergency services operation.
The law states that when there are unidentified drones in the area, fire suppression aircraft must be grounded.
In 2017, a Prescott Valley man was arrested and charged with endangerment and unlawful operation of an unmanned aircraft when the drone he was flying illegally near the Goodwin Fire in Yavapai County forced the state to suspend firefighting operations.
Other restrictions include not being able to hunt or intentionally kill an animal with a drone; flying a drone too close to essential facilities such as power plants; or taking photos in furtherance of a criminal offense.
A person guilty of the latter offense is guilty of a class 6 felony and may also be criminally liable for disorderly conduct for breaching the peace.
Drones can provide significant benefits to the operator and others. In the real estate context, drones can help monitor the progress of a new development, allowing the builder or owner to inspect progress from multiple perspectives and angles.
Drones can increase safety by visually accessing areas that would otherwise be physically dangerous. Drones can provide quality aerial photos of a home listed for sale. And drones offer a vehicle for delivering high quality images and video in real time – in contrast to Google Earth images or county assessor images.
Like with many new technologies, there is some established law and plenty that remains uncertain.
Many legitimate questions are being raised, such as, “What exactly are my rights when a drone is flying over my property? Is shooting/knocking one down over my property legal? Do I have a claim for trespassing, private nuisance, or invasion of privacy? Can my HOA use a drone to look into my back yard without my permission?”
If you are concerned about your privacy and how drones can affect you, before taking action the smart course is to consult an attorney.
-Benjamin Gottlieb is a co-founder in the Phoenix law firm MacQueen & Gottlieb, the state’s #1 ranked real estate law firm for two years running. Information: MandGLawGroup.com or 602-533-2840.