Buying your new drone can be exciting. But before you unpack your newly arrived drone and take it out for a flyby, you must be wondering – is it legal to fly drones over houses or other people’s private property?
You can legally fly your drone over other people’s houses and private property as long as you are not openly invading their privacy, causing damage to their property or endangering their life or family in any way. The airspace above the house is a federally administered area controlled by the FAA and you are allowed to use it.
However, there are some areas where flying a drone is not allowed like airports, military installations and other sensitive areas like National Parks where you can’t fly your drone for various reasons.
Do people own the airspace above their house?
The airspace above any house is owned and controlled by the federal government and is administered by the FAA. The homeowner does not have any claim to the airspace and hence cannot forbid people from flying over it.
However, there are instances when a drone owner can be intrusive or threaten the safety or property of the homeowner. In such a case, the homeowners can lodge a complaint with the law enforcement or in extreme cases take the law into their own hands. They can shot your drone down if highly provoked which is illegal but probable.
Another important aspect is to consider what the state laws say about privacy infringement. For example, in California, you can get into trouble for flying too close to private property – not because of flying the drone but because of potentially invading someone’s privacy. If the homeowner can prove you recorded something that is deemed private (even by accident) you can be sued for under privacy laws.
Similar local laws can be in other states as well. So it is a good idea to look up your local state and even county laws before flying your drone.
How low can you fly a drone over private property?
There is no defined limit to how low you can fly your drone. Again, this is one of those grey areas open to interpretation. Was the drone flying low enough to cause any privacy or safety concerns? If the drone was threatening someone’s privacy or safety, you can get in trouble for flying low.
In 1946, Thomas Lee Causby, a chicken farmer sued the US government because the flight operation of the US military from an airport near his farm resulted in the deaths of his chicken. The Court ruled that the petitioner can “owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land.” (U. S. v. Causby). Although this does not define a maximum limit above the house, it does give the property owner a right to a “buffer zone”. If the owner can prove the drone violated his buffer zone, he can have a case.
On the other side, there is a clear definition of how high can you fly without antagonizing the FAA. That altitude is 400 feet high (what happens when you fly above 400 feet?). Above that, drones are not authorised to fly.
Flying over restricted or controlled airspace
Though you can fly your drone over other people houses if you don’t threaten their right to privacy and safety, you cannot fly it over a restricted or controlled area.
The airspace above 400 feet from the ground is considered a controlled area by the FAA and no drone is allowed to fly there. Apart from that, there are other sensitive areas like airports, military installations etc. which are designated as restricted by the FAA. You have to get authorisation from the FAA to be able to fly in those areas.
Apart from that, there are several other areas where drone operations have been restricted by other regulators. For example, you cannot fly a drone in national parks or over the White House.
Drone laws are changing
Drones are a relatively newer technology. As the technology and its use are evolving, so are the regulations by the FAA. Every year, the FAA is bringing up newer and more comprehensive laws to regulate the use of drones for commercial and recreational purposes.
It is always a good idea to keep an eye out for the changing regulations so that you can be sure you are complying with the law at all times.