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Legal Landscape of Drone Real Estate Photography

Posted by newton on November 9, 2015
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Many real estate agents are becoming interested in aerial photography to showcase their listings in unique and memorable ways. With technology becoming more accessible and affordable clients and agents want to know, “is drone real estate photography legal?”.

The business of drone photography has been a legal gray area for several years now. In 2007 the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) stated that “any commercial use of drones without a permit is not permissible”. A case in Charlottesville, Virginia was the first to enforce this doctrine by fining a man 10k for flying his drone over the beach for commercial purposes.

Today, the FAA only authorizes the use of drones for commercial or business purposes on a individual basis. Any company flying a drone for commercial use must have express permission from the FAA.

Now the question becomes, “is drone real estate photography for commercial use?”. According to the FAA, yes. Real estate, weddings, movies, mapping and surveying are all commercial use purposes as they sell the photos or videos taken from the drone, are connected to a business and provide professional service. 

If you want to employ a business to take drone photography of your home, you have a few options. Find a company who is exempt from the FAA to operate commercially (some real estate photographers can file for Section 333 Exemption) . Or a find a company who has a drone that has a FAA airworthiness certificate and operates pursuant to FAA rules. Ask to see the FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA).

Now, it appears that even hobby drone users will face the same kind of regulations that are imposed on commercial users. Two weeks ago, the FAA published this official notice . The document outlines drone registration and certification to operate as a hobbyist.

One of the more controversial issues relating specifically to real estate photography is the expressed ownership of airspace above your home. In US real estate law, property owners own 1 mile of airspace above their property. To some, the registration requirements should exclude use on private property. What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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