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Drone laws are changing – here’s a brief overview of what every real estate agent must know

Drone laws are changing, so before you pony up for a drone purchase, you should know the rules of the “road” so you don’t get into trouble.

drone technologies

If you’ve been following recent developments in the drone movement, you’re probably aware of just how awesome the currently available models are. High-definition recording, extended battery life, autonomous movement, unprecedented range, and Go-Pro compatibility are only a few of the appealing aspects of your average competing specimen.

As cool (and useful) as this technology is, however, it’s important to be aware of the rules and regulations regarding UAV use — rules and regulations that, for the first time since modern-day drones’ inception, are drastically changing.

Personal drone use is rapidly becoming commonplace, as some models are approaching an insanely low price of $300. Projected figures show that, by 2019, as many as 8,000 civilian drones may be up and running.

The “below 400 ft” rule is no longer golden

As it sits, current laws reflect the lack of need for regulation until now: as long as you keep your drone below 400 feet, stay away from airports and other obvious security risks, and generally mind your own business, you were good to go, but things are changing.

Due to recent infractions, the most notable of which involve near-collisions with police helicopters or flying too close to the White House, the FAA has proposed some new guidelines that, purportedly, should come into play between now and 2017.

Although said guidelines are largely based in common sense, it won’t hurt to have everyone on the same page.

Better check your drone’s weigh

Starting soon, all UAVs will have to weigh in at less than 55 pounds to comply with FAA standards. An unencumbered Lily drone weighs a little under three pounds, and since other popular models follow suit for the most part, this shouldn’t be an issue.

More importantly, the FAA will also mandate that the drone must stay in your line of sight at all times; furthermore, barring corrective lenses, you won’t be able to utilize cameras, optics, or any fancy gadgets to meet this requirement.

There will be an actual speed limit

A maximum airspeed of 100 miles per hour will be required as well, though the maximum altitude will see an increase to 500 feet.

Operating over people not involved in your usage, other aircraft—manned or unmanned—or restricted sites will be strictly prohibited. This is a huge step for general privacy, but may strongly limit your recreational use.

A right-of-way for other aircraft will be implemented; again, even though this may not become an official rule until 2017, if you’d like to avoid a felony, please use common sense when choosing a flight location.

You can only operate during the day

Finally, the FAA will require you to operate only during daytime, with a minimum of three miles’ visibility.

As an operator, you will have some federally mandated responsibilities as well. Flying a drone while in an unstable mental state (i.e., tired, inebriated, medicated), flying two or more drones at once, and running “careless or reckless operations” will land you in serious legal trouble.

States and feds are working out the laws

In 2014 alone, nine U.S. states passed drone legislature, while 43 states have proposed over 150 bills regarding drone use. It’s easy to see how one might be confused with all the variants of laws floating around; this FAA ruling should clear up most of that disorientation.

There are too many specific state regulations to list here, but this graphic should give you a basic idea of what to look for in your home town. Some notable examples include a ban on weaponizing your drone, which came as a huge shock (Connecticut, Wisconsin), using a drone to aid in hunting (Colorado), taking a picture in a way that invades one’s reasonable privacy (California), and general surveillance of non-consenting individuals or their property (Texas, Indiana, Louisiana, North Carolina, Montana).

The need to be aware of drone legislature is magnified tenfold when applied to the real estate field. As an agent, you may use technology to better scout, photograph, and present properties to clients; though these tactics are no doubt more efficient (and conducive to better quality) than traditional real estate methods, make sure you have explicit, written permission from the owners of the property, as well as neighbors, businesses, and any other property in close proximity to the one you choose to film. Federal law regarding drones is fairly straightforward, but your state may have additional, convoluted laws to complement the FAA ruling.

This is just another case of covering your bases, folks. Drone usage is a delicate topic these days, and the slightest infraction could land you in some serious trouble, so before you throw a Lily in the air to take a beautiful panoramic shot of a suburban property, please check your state’s laws and make sure you have a concrete record of operation specifics (time, pictures, etc.) as well as written consent. If you follow these guidelines, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Bonus: additional reading

Real estate drone videography is falling far short of this glorious example – The Real Daily

6 kick ass drone tools every real estate pro should know – The Real Daily

Realtors prepping for FAA’s green light on flying drones – The Real Daily

ERIDA: There’s a new drone in town and it’s pretty damn cool – The American Genius

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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