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

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drone flying over personal property

Drone use in the US is increasing, and not everyone is loving it.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects the sale of UAVs to hit 7 million by the year 2020.

This growing use of drones is drawing attention on the safety and privacy concerns. There is also a question of all the legal issues surrounding this new technology. Exactly where can you fly your drone, and who owns the airspace over your private property.

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

The Raging Debate

drone private property flying 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.

Having a drone coming into your private property in this way is in their mindset not much different from an intruder coming in and spying on you.
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.

In order for the important technology of drones to thrive they feel that there needs to be laws that support the possibilities of this new technology, rather than hamper it.

FAA Rules on UAV Operation

drone flying 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.

where and when to fly UAVs

  • 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.

Drone crashed

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
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91 thoughts on “Can Drones Fly Over Private Property? [And How to Stop Them]”

  1. 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.

    • Agreed! Of course the FAA DOES have eminent domain, however up to a real property owner’s 385 feet , yes that owner owns the space above their property!

          • at 400 feet??? there is no drone available for recreational users that can see through a window at 400 feet…..the FAA owns the airspace that high, not you. If they are not landing or taking off on your property, theyre breaking no law, cannot even see anything up close, and its basically just people being petty. AS LONG as they are not flying low enough to cause a nuisance, and at 400 feet…..theyre not.

    • That is absolutely correct and must be stressed and stressed again. The FAA does not own private airspace and we must work to prevent that slippery slope impression. It’s the equivalent of the government coming in and seizing your oil and gas rights or your surface or riparian rights. We cannot allow this impression to be out there in the public mind.

      • The FAA can control the “aircraft” under the commerce clause, even kites. However, this authority does not extend to authorizing drones below 365 ft without the landowner’s permission.

      • LOL….So if Med-Flight is responding to an Emergency you’re telling us that you can SUE that Helicopter Co. and Pilot for landing in your Big Yard!!!! I THINK NOT!!!

        • James, yes a medical helicopter cannot land on your property unless you, your agent, or a government agent has summoned them, which is also the primary reason why they’d be there. Ironic? No, it’s how the world works. Same thing applies to an ambulance parking in your driveway if you tell them to leave.

          Notice I wrote tell them to leave, not sue them. What is wrong with people these days where they think everything is an excuse for a lawsuit? You don’t deserve any money for someone’s actions unless you can demonstrate a loss as a result.

          If I med-flight heli lands on your car and they’re at the wrong house, yes they own you for your car repair, lol.

    • Agreed! According to Basic Principles of Real Estate, Real Estate is defined as land, there are 4 basic components of land, all that is on the surface, all that is below the surface, the space of air above the surface, and what is attached by nature, therefore regarding eminent domain, up to a property owner’s 385 feet, a drone does not have permission to fly above a privately owned property. Great if an owner allows for special photos, weddings, sale if a home, however otherwise a violation of privacy. In my opinion.

      • But if a drone can fly up to 400 feet agl, then they can fly over someone’s property legally. According to what you said, they could do so legally at 386 feet.

      • Still no one is addressing the question I have! I and my neabours have several hundreds of acres of land with cattle, horses and other live stock not to mention the wild animals that roam on those lands. These drones are flying just a couple hundred feet above the properties which scares these animals causing some cattle to run into fences injuring themselves and the fences which are expensive to repair and time consuming! How can this be prevented when I do not know who is responsible due to an interstate running thru the middle of my farm and a rest area also sits in the middle of my nose large farm! What can I do?????

    • Nowhere on that link you provided did i see 385 feet. FAA owns to the ground. I’ve had real estate lawyers and retired pilots tell me this. Where does 385 come from? Makes no sense for a property owner to own 385 above the ground. I guess if you read it on the internet it must be true.

        • This is false, US vs Causby does not ever define an actual height limit, but instead only says that the homeowner owns the “enveloping atmosphere” above their home which is defined as the airspace that they can reasonably use. In fact, in the Judge who provided the opinion on the case explicitly did not define a limit, and that said that it should be determined in the future on a case by case basis… from the opinion: “We need not determine at this time what those precise limits are,” and they still have not been defined. Please stop spreading misinformation.

      • I agree With you John. FAA governs ALL airspace and a landowner does not own the airspace above property.
        There is NO law that states this, some people are just dumb and can’t read and comprehend the law as it is written….

  2. I have a close friend that has two drones flying over their property almost every night. I read some of the regulations about this and there are too many unsolved restrictions that really makes the law unclear about this situation. One law regulation was that a drone cannot be operated at night. My friend concernd about this and wants to know what they can do to stop this

    • My wife and I are retired and live & travel full-time in a motorhome. We run into drone use often in established campgrounds and the only thing clear about the regulations is that they are not clear. Common sense should prevail but when you deal with the general public, it’s not always present. This spring we had a drone operator hover a drone right over us about 20′ up as we were sitting out reading in the afternoon. I picked up a rock and as I cocked my arm to hurl it, it shot straight up in the air and moved away. I found the operator and yelled at him to keep his f-ing drone away from our site. Actions like that are creating a literal hatred of drones and their operators-use them responsibly!

      • Threatening property damage. Aggressive behavior and language. Nice common sense! Ya the guy/gal was being irresponsible, possibly doing something illegal, but you are escalating the situation and you are the one creating the hatred. By doing so you’ve made it impossible to know if there was any malice in the action in the first place because of your reaction. You are responsible for your own actions, nobody MADE you hate them. There are a number of infinitely better ways you could handle that situation that would work towards what you claim to want (more responsible drone operators.).

        • This made me sad to read. How self-righteous was that little rant? People are entitled to their emotions, even if they are not your emotions. People are entitled to be upset over what upsets them, even if it doesn’t upset you.

          Embrace diversity.

          People are complexly beings, and the world is a complex place. It’s easy to get on one’s high-horse and lecture others for having emotional responses to things that you would not get emotional about, but lecturing people you don’t know for not being more like you is arguably more rude, hostile, and anti-social than anything you accused your target of doing.

          You know nothing of what that person has been through, or why he is the way he is. Nor do you seek to understand, You just do the virtual finger wag so that you can feel better about you.

          You want to make the world a better place? I mean, really and truly make it a better place? Next time you feel like firing up your browser and telling other people what they did wrong, instead, proceed to the nearest mirror, and figure out what you could do to be better. I’m willing to bet there’s a whole lot of unfinished business you could be attending to there. That’s where your attention should be.

          Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time that I go and take my own advice, albeit a little bit late.

        • The operator was knowingly breaking several laws. What is so wrong with becoming angry at someone who is legally harassing you and flying a drone over 300 feet lower than is legal in the area it was in? It is akin to driving your car on a sidewalk.

        • How self righteousness can you be??
          The guy with the drone made the first move here, not the people he was spying on

        • Agree with the others… in the words of “Rambo”… the drone flying prick “drew first blood”.
          Too many whiners these days with no moral compass or ability to reason logically.

      • Had a similar experience after getting out of our RV to walk our dog near a river. A drone came right at us and hovered over us at around 20ft and scared the crap out of my dog. I was mad as hell. He was scaring my dog (barked like crazy), ruining our walk near the river, and invading our privacy. Why would someone think that’s ok? I just left in a hurry so could get my dog away from it, but if I had it to do over I would have thrown a rock. In the future I’ll be doing more to defend against intrusion of privacy to the fullest extent within legal limits.

        • I had an incident like this on the weekend. My neighbour bought a new drone and flew it above us whilst we were having drinks in our back yard. We have two sick cats at the moment and one of them was just below it and got a huge fright and didn’t know where to run. I lost it like never before using some colourful language and threatening to call the cops and stormed off inside to do so. He then had the cheek to come back and do it again setting me off on a few new words and hovered at the end of our garage for five minutes whilst I am doing my nut and looking for a rock to throw. Knowing my luck, it would hit a neighbour’s window or car! I was right beside the garden hose and so wish I had my time again. I would have blasted that thing out of the sky. Someone suggested ask to have a go and fly it into the ground! Sadly it was one of our nice quiet neighbours we have never had trouble with. But he did laugh therefore does not care and did it again, so he’s gone down in my estimations. No one has respect anymore. He assures us he won’t fly it around here again and I feel so embarrassed and humiliated that I am now the mad woman from hell. I have every right to be so angry. Three days on and I am still wound up about this. I was stressed, going through alot and had worked right through Christmas – it was my one chance to sit down and have a quiet drink. It’s the sound, the fright, the spying, invasion. I have heard one in a park during my walks and it’s flaming annoying, yet I know it’s fun for the operator, so I let it go in a public area. I guess we are up in arms because it’s new and we can’t control such activity. The electric scooters get me going too.

  3. I have close neighbors with a drone that have recently flown it directly over our deck, had it sit and loiter, and film us as I was trying to relax and my wife was doing school work for an online MSN degree program and over the heads of my wife and I while kayaking in the lake behind our house.
    Today was the last straw. I called the sherrifs office, and they came and confiscated the drone and charged the individual that was piolting the drone with a number of crimes.
    People need to be responsible with these things. I personally want to see these people prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    • “had it sit and loiter, and film us”

      How do you know it took footage of you? When I fly my drone, I’m using the video feed to avoid hitting trees and stuff. None of my neighbors are interesting enough that I want to waste memory card space with video of them or their property.

      “I called the sherrifs office, and they came and confiscated the drone and charged the individual that was piolting the drone with a number of crimes.”

      I doubt this. If this is true, there would be a public record which I’ll wager you cannot cite.

      • I am with you on this. Not every drone is recording video and people aren’t interesting enough to record their daily lives. There needs to be motive, blackmail, or some sort of proof showing they were/are being violated. To charge them with a crime would require an officer and the court to see the video detailing an invasion of privacy.

        • And that’s exactly what the FAA says. I live in a neighborhood and I try to inform them of what I’m doing. When I take off, I try and get up as fast as possible as not to annoy them with what little noise the DJI Mavic Pro makes. One neighbor came over and talked to me and was very nice. I told him if it ever bothered him to please let me know. I even offered to take some shots of his house with the sunrise over the beach and he said yes.

      • This is why I retain telemetry and video of all flights, as I had a crazy lady behind me (adjectent, I could open my window and ‘spy’ on her better if that was my goal) claim I was hovering over her for 5 minutes. Review of the telemetry showed I flew OVER her property at 395ft for < 2 seconds and the rest of the time was hovering on MY PROPERTY looking at MY ROOF which has a mold issue on a sunlight. Naturally, she assumed I was sooo interested in whatever they were doing. But not interested enough to just open the window and look, and instead send a bee-hive. Her threat the shoot the drone down resulted in her calling her local 'police guy' and we had a polite talk, he was cool, and he knows she's bat-shit. When she realized I was her adjacent neighbor and she has no fence (though I do have a half-height wooden fence), it was pretty obvious her claims of 'privacy violation' were absurd and those who think shooting a gun into the air is a good idea is .. well, an order of magnitude more dangerous than your silly privacy, which I still don't know what she was talking about, not like they have X-Ray vision.

    • Thats great. Just had one over my property. Hovered. Really pissed me off. My house and its seroundinds should be a sanctuary. Wonder if i can shoot it down. Dont think the police can figure out where it comes from

      • So let me get this straight. You’re pissed off because somebody’s flying the drone over your property, which you believe is an illegal act because it is somehow invading your privacy. And you are wondering if you could fire a weapon at the drone to shoot it down? In most places I believe it’s illegal to fire a firearm within city limits or within the county. So you want to commit an illegal act to rectify an illegal act?

        • Who said firearm? Pellet gun, bb, or airsoft will be enough.

          I have no idea why your drone is there and I’m going to assume it’s for no good. Why should I give you the benefit of the doubt and take a risk of it being you trying to case the place or trying to make illegal recordings. I mean, if you wanted to just take of tour of pass through my property, you would ask instead of covertly circumventing it without my knowledge by using a drone. I

          • Yeah, sure go ahead. Just keep in mind that drones are aircraft as far as FAA is concerned. As such interfering with operation of one (e.g. harassing drone operator while they are piloting) is a misdemeanor. Willfully destroying one is a felony. (This is assuming you can actually hit a moving airborne target with a pellet gun, which I pretty much guarantee that you cannot, no matter how highly you think of your sharpshooting abilities)

            As a side note, absolute vast majority of drone pilots have zero interest in your sad boring lives. Most of the time when they fly through your property it is because they are looking for a good vantage point to film/take a shot of something that IS actually interesting (and no, that interesting something is not on your property). Either that or (which is more likely) they are new and just learning/doing test flights. Again last thing they are interested in while doing it is watching your miserable lives.

          • Porco don’t you realize you are a complete nuisance? People don’t want to be bothered by your drones flying over them. They are annoying to hear, plus who knows what you are looking at. It’s a complete invasion of privacy. You must be extremely selfish and oblivious to think it is ok to fly over someones property.

          • I’ve seen this alot: It’s a complete invasion of privacy. No, its not. If a single prop airplane flew over your property at 1,000 feet, are they invading your privacy? Porco is correct – registered drones are considered aircraft. I don’t agree with people flying 20 feet above someone or their house. But if a drone is at a safe distance above your property, it’s not an invasion of privacy. If an airplane can fly over your property, so can a drone. End of discussion.

    • Especially once it lands on your property that is trespassing! It’s like an uninvited person, you did right. It is out of control because many drone users do not know the laws, and some laws are unclear , however not in my opinion, property owner’s own the space above their land, except for the government, example , the Federal Aviation Administration , which is government, drones may fly up to 385 feet to not interefere with airspace, airplanes, etc, and only certain areas. Basic Principles of Real Estate state a property owner owns the space of air above the surface. Basic Principles of Real Estate, Real Estate Publishers, Inc. Copyright ©️ 2013. I’m no expert, just reading from this book because I feel my privacy has been violated as a property owner. Drones have cameras. I’m on a mission to clarify the law.

      • While it is true that many drone owners don’t know the law, its also true that people that do not own drones don’t know the law either. Drones may fly legally up to 400 feet as long as they are not flying in a restricted area or around airports.

        • Title 14 Aeronautics and Space

          §107.39 Operation over human beings.

          No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless that human being is:

          (a) Directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft; or

          (b) Located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.

          In other words: if you are resting on your deck, mowing the lawn, sitting outside, walking on the sidewalk etc. and a drone operator hovers over, that operator is in violation of the above FAA rule. Unless the operator obtained a waiver from the said rule ($107.200, $107.205).

          If the drone is hovering over your property, go outside and stand on your lawn – if the operator does not move away he/she is in violation, and you definitely have no obligation to justify to anyone your being outside standing on your own property.

          Don’t throw a rock or use a firearm, call local police department instead.

          • Ah, yes, another “expert”, but at least you posted from an authoritative source.

            Trouble is, the content you posted only applies to non-recreational flights. Doh!

  4. I”m sure the FAA will come out with a rule on flying a drone over private property soon but i think if you fly your drone at 400ft you are not breaking any laws.

  5. I live in West Palm Beach, FL. and recently saw a mall cop chase off 2 boys operating a drone over the mall parking lot. Is flying over a mall parking lot illegal?

    • It isn’t a very smart thing to do. If the drone lost power for any reason, any damage to people or vehicles would be on the operator’s back. Flying drones are a fun activity, paying for the damage done to a Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar or even a Rolls Royce, is NOT likely to be an enjoyable exercise…we won’t even talk about hospital bills lol

  6. We live in a very rural setting with over 300 acres of land. Our closest neighbors are over 1/4 mile away. While I was away a drone hovered at rooftop level over our home while my wife was working in her garden. It was nearly directly over her and would not leave. Our home is not visible from the highway. This drone operator could have been doing nothing else but stalking or invading our privacy. There is no way to identify the operator. If this occurs while I am home it will be destroyed!

    • I its that low then i feel is a concern. But at 400 feet you would struggle to even see it.

  7. At 300-400 feet, video only show your whole house just as big as a 3 milliter dot. Why do you care if a drone flew over your house?

  8. Someone in our neighbor hood has been flying a drone over our backyard, first time it happened it gave the Mrs. a good scare. Ideally, the courts or government would work out some type of legislation regarding these devices.

    • someone at sunset flew a drone, very large one over my back yard. It got very low, and could not see me because I was under a tree. I stepped out, and it was hovering very low. Maybe 40 feet above my roofline over my backyard. It detected me and shot off like a bat out of hell. I watched. I could see it’s red dot lights hovering in the distance. After a few minutes, while I hid it came back. Very low. I stepped out from cover and it shot off again. First straight up into the air, and then very quickly out of site. How is that not spying on me? It wasn’t flying through my air space. It dropped low and hovered. That’s not ok.

  9. I normally fly in the school, park but sometimes I would fly in the neighborhood. I only fly above the streets and not go in pass anyone front yard. One neighbor across yelled privacy so I went over to his house after i land and told him I’m just flying back an front above the street and that I don’t do that “looking over the neighbor” stuff. I told the neighbor next to me what happened. He said he was ok with me flying and that the guy across must be hiding something. As of now I don’t see any local city law regarding drones. And what makes me shake my head the guy across fly drones too. he was the first one to fly in our neighborhood

    • The thing most people don’t realize is Google Earth will let anyone look in your front yard/back yard and you can even go to street view and looking up their driveway and front of the house. People are paranoid of things they don’t understand. Granted there are some that violate common decency and drop down in peoples back yards to take videos of people sun bathing. My point is simply this, no matter what hobby someone has there are always those that makes it bad for the rest of us. How many people dislike those that ride motorcycles, or own guns. Why? because there are always those few idiots that spoils it for the rest of us and the state/federal government steps in and makes all sort of laws, rules and regulations that effect all of us.

  10. I do roof inspections with Drones and have never had an complaint from my clients neighbors. I have to fly over their property sometimes to get a shot. It’s simple,, I show respect for someone else’s property, I don’t hover very long and I never fly directly over anyone.. Quite frankly I rarely see anyone worth looking at; put on your bathing suit and stand in front of a mirror, I think you’ll understand.,

    Relax; it’s all going to work out.


  11. My neighbor flys his drone over my house and back yard, and it drives my Doberman nuts. He barks like crazy, and he’s very loud. I went out and gave the gadget both fingers. It definitely seemed to be watching, as it hovered for a couple of minutes. I’m not hiding anything, and I know there’s nothing to look at, but he seems to enjoy harassing my dog, therefore me and the neighbors. I called the local police, and there is no city ordinance or law aside from the rules about flying near the airport. They said they would speak to him if there is no resolution between us. It seems like everyone here has an opinion based on their own self interest, and some just downright insulting. I’m a lady, and what makes me “crazy” is the man across the street invading my privacy and harassing my dog. When it’s before work, that really upsets me, and creates serious negativity in my day. Take your toys to the country!

  12. Take your dog to the country!

    I would argue dogs should not be allowed in the city as well. There are substantially more irresponsible pet owners then there are irresponsible rc hobbiests. Yet there is an unbelievable tolerance for those pinheads.

    If I have to live with your animals, your gonna have to live with my copters.

    • I totally agree that there are probably more irresponsible dog owners than responsible dog owners. We are responsible dog owners and I am a drone pilot. Our dogs are always under control, never off our property without a leash, and in the house at night. One of our neighbors has a dog that regularly relieves itself on our property and had another dog that would come out into the street barking and snarling when I went on my morning walk. When I talked to them about these issues I met people I never want to deal with again. I just let it go and avoided them.

      They then called the Sheriffs office complaining that our dogs were barking all day and all night. They were in the 1/2 acre fenced area when the deputy showed up on our doorstep and during the 45 minute conversation, he commented that he never once heard our dogs bark.

      This neighbor was caught by my wife flashing what she assumed was a laser pointer around our back yard at dusk when she went out to bring the dogs in. The deputy then showed up again. At this point, he realized that this neighbor was psycho. The next morning when she was feeding the dogs, she found what the vet felt was a gunshot, most likely pellet wound in our Newfoundlands neck. After this, I put video surveillance on the dog area with sound monitoring. This stopped the complaints from the neighbor, A few weeks later, they moved away. Not sure, but I think these antics may have just been a parting shot from crazy neighbors.

      I do have to admit, that my drone flight activity increased after these incidents. Not that I was videoing anything since I did not have a camera on my newly constructed drone at that time. Although I strictly stayed over my own property, I guess I was looking for a bit of an intimidation factor.

      The bottom line, is some people are reasonable, and some look for a reason to call attention to themselves for some perceived intrusion. We all have to live with these people and if there is no reasoning with them, then we can only try to stay as clear of them as possible.

    • You sound like a real gem to live next to.. don’t wonder why you have problems with your neighbors, Steve..

    • If the lady’s dog was on your property, you would have a point. If your drone is over her property and below 365 feet then you would be trespassing.

  13. Loss of Privacy is an issue. Those who believe there is/are no current laws, opinionate till you piss off the person who knows what laws there are and/or she/ he gets an attorney who does. Law enforcement is often not aware and don’t want to or have time to deal with this type of issue. Record the violations and express on every recording how the.privacy infrnigment effects you emotionally, physically, and psychologically. The loss of enjoyment of your home can now be proved, injury can be proved, and civil lawsuit can be won. Do your research.

  14. I am a drone pilot and I understand peoples concerns about privacy. However I believe that not all pilots are invading anyone’s privacies! Most pilots are just trying to enjoy the drones flights and its abilities to maneuver. I live in a subdivision in the county and I do not film except to get some sunsets. However I have still got neighbors that think I am trying to watch them. Like stated in other comments I have no interest in any of my neighbors and I do not hover over them! I had a helicopter fly over my house very low and hover for some time shortly after I moved in. About a week later a woman showed up at my door with a framed photo of my house and wanted $150.00 for it! Was that legal?

  15. I need to know how to capture a DJ4 that has been physicaly hrting me for two years. I have photos but local law and even FCC says I am imaging it.

  16. There are a lot of people that believe everything they see or hear. All you have to do is look at the long term success of the National Enquirer. A good percentage of people who see a drone in their neighborhood or over their property are going to believe it’s there just to harass or spy on them. Their only frame of reference on drones they have is information they heard on the news or from their associates.

    In reality most drone owners are simple hobbyists just enjoying a really fun recreational activity. As a reminder, remote control airplanes and helicopters are not new. We have had t hem in society for half a decade. What’s changed is the level of entry required. It takes very little skill now to effectively operate one of these devices whereas in the past it was a large investment of time and money. Mounted cameras are also very common now as opposed to the past.

    With that said, drone operators should be respectful to the sensitivity that many individuals will have about drones flying in their neighborhood. Talk to your neighbors about it and your intentions. If you see someone is upset about it, discuss it with them in a constructive and not confrontational way. You still won’t satisfy everyone but I strongly believe that minimizing tensions is the key to enjoyment for everyone.

    • What has changed is the fact that they now have cameras and record video! just stay away from people’s property! it’s that simple!!

  17. I’ve read the comments and there is a ton of mis-information posted so far.

    Case law is already established, or in legal terms “Stare Decisis” on privacy.

    You have no expectation of privacy if there is any way to see your home/backyard from a public street or sidewalk…or from above if someone is flying an aircraft legally.

    The same laws and rulings that protect photographers on the ground protect camera drone operators in the air.

    Drone’s taking video or pictures over your back yard is a perfectly legal and a First Amendment protected activity, as long as it is from a public vantage point (which the airspace above 80 feet is considered) and they are legally flying within FAA regulations. You have no legal standing to tell them to stop or demand they fly elsewhere. You certainly can ask them to stop but if they are not breaking any FAA regulation or any state or local ordinance, there isn’t much you can do.

    If they are ‘trolling’ you, then you can report that to the police as harassment and then let the police handle it, but beyond that you have no legal recourse.

    Your discomfort doesn’t trump other peoples’ rights. We have too many people already trying to claim ‘its illegal to take my picture in public’ or ‘you need my permission to film me’ or ‘you can’t film this building’ when the law is completely opposite of what their claims are. Too many people are ignorant of the law and it shows in this comment section too. (If you can see it from public, you can record it. That’s the law).

    The privacy right of a person doesn’t apply unless that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    Put more directly, you have given up any expectation that you cannot be “observed or disturbed by other people” by virtue of entering a public space or being in a position where you can be seen by others from a public space, even in your back yard.

    United States v. Causby Et Ux., 328 U.S. 256 (1946). Ownership of the airspace above your home extends to ~80 feet from the ground (not the top of your tallest building). Local and State laws would have to adhere to FAA rules (meaning your personal airspace can NOT extend above 500 feet, ever). If someone is flying a drone over 80 feet above your back yard, by case law, they are in public airspace as put into Federal Law by the United States Congress and later ruled on by the Supreme Court.

    US Supreme Court cases, Kyllo v. United States and Boyd v. United States affirmed the English Common Law of “The Eyes Can Not Trespass”. Laws and case rulings have repeatedly affirmed photographers’ rights (and as such, quadcopter operators’ rights).

    I get where some of the people posting here are coming from, but in America, the courts and the law disagree with many of the comments posted here on they feel things should be.

    People have no expectations of privacy in public (the United States Supreme Court already ruled on this, Katz v. United States)

    If you can stand on a sidewalk and see inside someone’s home through an open window or into their backyard from the space between the rear neighbors’ homes, that is fair game too. That is the law.

    Fencing is a good idea for anyone who wants privacy in their back yard though the federal courts have ruled that there is no expectation of privacy if your neighbor can see into your backyard from their second story deck

    There was a court case of photographer Arne Svenson. He took photos, from a public sidewalk and street, of his neighbors through their apartment windows without their knowledge or consent.

    Svenson printed these photos and put them up in a major art gallery, calling the exhibit “Neighbors”. He was sued for invasion of privacy by those neighbors.

    Svenson won the case due to the fact that his neighbors had left their curtains open, so the court ruled the neighbors had no reasonable expectation of privacy from people seeing them on the street.

    Photography is NOT a crime.

    I don’t condone drone operators spying into people’s homes. I’m talking about being on the beach, in a park or or anywhere else in public, or anywhere that can be viewed from a public area, such as your backyard as seen from a sidewalk on the other side of the block or by a drone flying over 80 feet above your property (again, US Supreme court case United States v. Causby)

    • So if I own a 10 story building and a drone flies into it at 90 feet AGL then I am responsible for the damages since I only own the airspace 80 feet from the ground? My building would be in violation of airspace requirements?

      If you cannot see into my house from the street but you can from my backyard at 80 feet AGL even though the nearest public land from my back window is over 1000 yards away on all sides is is ok for a drone to take video of the back of my house? A reasonable person would believe that if I was naked on my back porch someone would not be able to see me because I have a tree wall set up 50 feet from my house that runs my fence line. However if you fly into my property and over my trees then you would be able to see everything.

      A drone gives you access to things you cannot see from public property in most cases. That’s why most people like them. Comparing a drone video to a photographer on a street corner is not the same case so stare decisis does not apply in this case.

      Just my 2 cents from a business law student!

  18. My understanding of the Causby decision was that Causby was indeed entitled to compensation for flights which took place between 83 feet and 365 feet above his property. See “Holdings” at

    “On remand, the Court of Claims was tasked with defining the value of the “property interests” that had been taken from Causby by flyovers. Because the lowest plane flew at 83 feet (25 m), and because flights above 365 feet (111 m) were considered within the public easement declared by congress, the Court needed to determine the value owed the Farmer for public use of his airspace between 83 and 365 feet (25 and 111 m). The Court did not need to compensate the farmer for use below 83 feet (25 m), because the planes did not fly below that height.”

    To me, that means that we are limited to the window of between 365 feet and 400 feet (FAA regulation). Am I wrong here?

    I don’t quibble with your analysis regarding expectation of privacy.

    Local laws can be even more restrictive than the federal laws and regulations but not more liberal (similar to pot being legal at the state level but still illegal at the federal level).

    Please, someone correct me where I am wrong.

  19. I live on a farm. I’m annoyed by someone hovering over my home and barn. It’s not like a neighborhood where they could be looking at many different locations. Hovering over my home, you only see my home. But again, it’s only annoying. My concern is someone with a drone is harassing my livestock. It is legal to shoot a gun here, so the idea that firing a weapon in the county is illegal is not accurate (as someone commented earlier). Most of the comments here are about privacy, which I get, but my concern is safety. If they run my animals through a fence and onto the road, someone could die and my animals would likely die.

  20. Wow. So I can fly 100 drones over a neighbors house and they would not feel threatened or at least privacy being violated. People reference other rf devices like helicopters or airplanes – but these had areas, like parks, where you would specifically fly to avoid issues. I understand the laws but if I build a privacy fence, my expectation is privacy even if someone can see from a 2nd story. Ironically there are peeping tom laws that protect you more than peeping drones. And by the time law enforcement arrives, deleting the images/video is a trivial step. Ultimately the problem is that these drones can record and violate privacy. If all they did was fly, no one would care.
    Can someone confirm if a minimum height exists while over another property? So if your house is surrounded by trees that a neighbor could not see you, but a drone can navigate next to your windows, is that still not a privacy violation?

    • you could not fly 100 drones. each uav needs its own pilot, unless granted a waiver from the FAA, as was done with the intel 300 drones show

    • My dad is 83 years old and his house sits in the middle of a 20 acre olive grove. He’s dealing with drones hovering 3 feet from the windows. They’ve even shined lights into windows to see. They start at dusk and continue through the night. This has forced him to close the blinds due to the bright lights waking him up. What’s the difference between a drone operator and a peeping tom? Both are peering into the windows? Does he have any rights here?

  21. So what about when the local newspaper takes drone video of your private property and publishes it on the front page and website WITHOUT permission?! Do you see where this is going? It’s called PRIVATE property for a reason! It’s a slippery slope and I’m tired of big brother breathing down our necks and now we have to worry about drones doing whatever they want? Drones should not be able to fly, or film over private property without permission below 400 feet and also publish in public domain!

    • I agree to a point, but cameras are everywhere. I have them around my house and barn. They’re in the nearest city, on every block, Even way up on a pole, in the air. This is where it gets tricky… Once you are OUT of your private space (or property), you are in public domain. Your city can install cameras on a pole next to your driveway and there’s nothing you can do about it.

      How do you stop drone operators who have absolutely no desire in what you are doing outside? As an operator myself, I don’t care what anyone is doing, on a personal level. As long as they are safe and away from the machine, that’s all I care about. Your business is yours, Mine is mine. Don’t take it away from me because you’re either angry for whatever reason, or just don’t know all of the facts.

      You stating “now we have to worry about drones doing whatever they want” indicates you really don’t know the facts yet.

      • You are assuming all drone operators are like you. You have not thought about the criminals that look for property to steal. What about if you have a piece of property 20 acres. You are in the middle of it and a drone comes flying over at 30′ from the only neighbor within a mile who is 2 lots over. The only reason he flew it over was to see what we were doing. So. My solution is to do the same to him. Maybe we can send notes to each other and see if either of us wants to go hunting that day.

  22. I do my best to stay away from areas I have no interest in, such as my neighbors house, but sometimes i go over their land for a moment to get that shot I’m looking for. Never over any people. I am a licenced commercial drone operator and use my land for practicing, but I rarely have the need to go up to 400 feet.

    I live way out in the country farmlands (class G) so it’s fairly quiet out here, so once those motors spin up, it’s obvious what’s going on. When I first started, I had one neighbor sneak around my pole barn and just stare at me, just watching what I was up to. I yelled at him and told him to get out or I’ll call the cops for trespassing… Just kidding!

    I did quite the opposite. I waved him over to show him what I was doing. It was actually the first time I actually had a good chat with him. I explained all the systems and how they worked and gave him a short demonstration. I showed him there’s really no way for it to ‘spy’ on people, because the lens isn’t designed for that. He really seemed to really enjoy it. He didn’t realize how safe they actually were. He was amazed at how stable it was.

    He told me he thought about shooting it down because he didn’t know where it originated from… (NOT a good reason to shoot down a drone). I explained the hazards of such an act. After all, drones are considered aircraft, by definition. Where would that bullet fall if it missed the drone? Some bedroom window a mile away? Regardless, we all need to be friends out here… no need for that type of altercation.

    Now if you really want to know what really bothers me. A Cessna Caravan flying over my house at 250ft AGL at 120kts…. NOT COOL. They’ve got no reason to do that. How am I supposed to get out of their way when it’s already too late? Yet If he hits my drone, I’m the one in trouble? It makes no sense.

    Quote from

    Over uncongested areas, airplanes can operate at an altitude of 500 feet above the surface. However, airplanes can operate even lower when over “open water or sparsely populated areas.” When flying over those areas, aircraft may not operate closer than 500 feet to any person, vehicle, or structure provided that if the airplane’s engines fail, an emergency landing will not create an undue hazard. 14 C.F.R. § 91.119(a) and (c). Two exceptions exist for when a person may operate an aircraft below these altitudes: (1) when necessary for takeoff or landing; or (2) in an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action. 14 C.F.R. § 91.119(a); 14 C.F.R. § 91.3(b). [1]

    What the hell is a Caravan doing that low and fast? Fast enough that I couldn’t read a tail number if I tried. He was over my private property, while I was doing business. Where do we draw the line? Who’s in the right? Who’s in the wrong? The FAA must rule on these type of topics.

  23. If you fly over someone’s house it’s one thing, if you’re low enough to be able to see through skylight’s and stuff like that you’re a tool. If someone expressed that they’re not ok with and you continue it’s just not right, it’s definatly an invasion of privacy. Some of these drone owners are just asses.

  24. Perhaps all those “other” spying devices “cellphones and cameras” should be illegal. When someone is reading the news, how do you not know they are actually taking a picture of you?

    Anti-drone people are all freaked out because they are paranoid other people are interested in their private lives, which is generally not the case. Same as most people with a cellphone or camera area also not trying to film you…

    All of this anger is FEAR driven. I agree some people are jerks, some people misuse drones, same as cameras, weapons, automobiles, etc…

    Judge the person not the drone.

  25. For almost two years; I have been stalked, harassed, my privacy invaded, my life disrupted by I am assuming a group of people with the use of drones / UAV. It started with one in my backyard, now I have counted up to 11; there are possibly more that follow me everywhere, and I mean everywhere I go. They peep through my skylights; which I have had to cover; they fly close to my home making loud sounds. Somehow they coordinate every time I leave work or my home. I am not against the use of drones; I know they can have many benefits and I can see by the comments that many people are true hobbyist. But the problem is not the drones; the problem is with people doing the wrong thing. I have tried reporting it to the police and to FAA; but so far I have gotten nowhere.
    I hope they come up with some kind of technology, laws or something that can prevent those misusing it from continuing to harm people in this way. Because drone usage is increasing, so it is not going to get any better unless the necessary action steps are taken NOW.

  26. There’s not really any debate at all the way the laws currently stand.

    No one else can give a drone operator the right to fly over your property unless it is above 400 feet and then it is required to get an approved flight plan. This is accepted as a lien against any US property that allows flight in that upper air space but not lower. ONLY the property owner can waive that right.

  27. Excellent article. Thank you.

    Quick thought:

    I feel like, say, 1” or even 5’ above the ground, would have to be the same as landing? No?

    Otherwise people could legally hover at eye-level all day in your back yard. That just feels unsupportable as ‘airspace’.

  28. for all you drone pilots, regardless if it is legal or not to fly over someone’s private property between the ground and 400ft. If you see livestock and you are not intentionally at the owners request, going above them, cease immediately and get the hell away from them. Livestock instinctually are afraid (literally scared to death, running at top speed through anything) to escape what their brains tell them is an impending hornet swarm. They will run themselves into extremely expensive vet bills, hoping someone is there to call the vet, or they die. I am now on vet bill #2 because someone flies too close to my horses who live on a hill, and causing them to run through fencing. Be respectful, if you didn’t know how scary they are to horses and cattle, now you do. This not a right fight, it is common courtesy to respect the landowner and animal instinct.

  29. I think what it all comes down to is this.
    If you own/operate or are being affected by a drone, check local, state and federal law to be sure of your rights and the rights of the other party.
    BTW…if you are the owner of a drone and deliberately annoy your neighbors, don’t expect them to call 911 if they see your house on fire, or see a stranger in your back yard. What goes around comes around.

  30. Almost every night for the past 5 years we’ve had anywhere from 2 to 6 drones circling our property!! Let me add how hard it is to sleep with that hum noice they make! Anyone having a hard time believing this I have hours upon hours of video footage of these drones circling my house

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