Can Drones Fly Over Private Property? [And How to Stop Them]

Drone flying over private propertyThe use of drones across the U.S. soaring high, a move that may soon get our skies more crowded.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects the sale of UAVs to hit 7 million by the year 2020. The interest for this piece of technology is growing from both the commercial and individual front.

This growing use of drones is drawing attention on the safety and privacy concerns. It’s also raising legal questions regarding where and when drones should be allowed to fly over.

There has also been a question of who gets to make these decisions on where and when they can be flown.

The Raging Debate

One party feels that property owners have ownership rights up to 500 feet above the ground. Therefore this gives them the right to deny flying of drones over their property at any level below this altitude. They argue that UAVs threaten security and privacy more than airplanes and jets which fly at higher altitudes.
Others harbor the feeling that drone technology is the face of the future of aviation. Therefore, all the decisions on where and when they can be flown should be made collectively through the law of tort. They argue that Commercial air travel would never have grown if individuals had been allowed to sue airlines for flying airplanes over their property without their express permission.

FAA Rules on UAV Operation

FAA is charged with the responsibility of coming up with laws that govern the use of UAVs. On the 21st of June, 2016, FAA released an Advisory Circular detailing the amendments to its regulations to adopt rules for the use of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) in the U.S. airspace. The Advisory offers guidelines for conducting sUAS operations in accordance with title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Where and When to Fly UAVs

The circular stipulates a lot of rules regarding the operation of UAVs. Listed below are the particular limitations touching on where and when one should operate a UAV.

  • Can only be operated during daytime or civil twilight while with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
  • Should only be operated up to a maximum of 400 feet above the ground level. If operated from a structure, it should be within 400 feet of the structure
  • Should not be operated from moving aircraft
  • Should not be operated from a moving vehicle unless it’s being operated over sparsely populated areas.
  • The UAV should only be operated when weather visibility is of 3 miles from the control station.
  • With an ATC permission, it can be operated in class B, C, D and E airspace.
  • Can be operated in class G airspace even without ATC permission.
  • While in operation, the UAV must remain Visual-Line-Of-Sight.

What About Flying Over Private Property?

A close study of the Circular brings forth the fact that there is no mention of limitations of flying over private property. Where does this leave homeowners whose properties do not lie within the restricted airspace? Are they able to claim any property right on the space surrounding their property? These are some of the questions the circular left unanswered.

In a bid to seek clarity, TechCrunch consulted Thomas Gemmell on the matter. Thomas is a former U.S Air Force fighter pilot. He is also a co-leader of Huch Blackwell’s drone team.

Thomas also affirmed that it’s not clear as of the moment whether one is allowed to fly a drone over private property. He, however, emphasized that FAA owns the aerospace individuals cannot claim ownership.

This means that one cannot deny or grant permission over their aerospace. All is not lost, though, he confirmed that one could base their complaints on grounds that;

  •  The drones are causing a nuisance
  • They are being flown recklessly
  • They are violating the state privacy law

He further explained that if the plane lands or takes off from the property without operation, the operator can be sued for trespass. He concluded by confirming that there are local laws that prohibit the operation of UAVs over cities. He, therefore, urged drone operators and aggrieved parties to familiarize themselves with the laws governing their area.

Peter Kipkemoi

Peter Kipkemoi

Peter Kipkemoi is a UAV enthusiast that owns and pilots a DJI Phantom 2. Peter has lots of hands on experience with operating quadcopters and octocopters, and loves reviewing and writing about civilian and military drones.
Peter Kipkemoi


  1. Robert Meehan says

    The article contains some pretty serious legal errors, particularly where it states that ATC permission must be granted in order to fly a drone in Class E airspace, simply not true. Most airspace in the United States is class E. The airspace above FL600 is also class E. No ATC clearance or radio communication is required for VFR flight in class E airspace.

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