It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a drone! Camera-mounted private drones are becoming increasingly popular. However, the technology and problems that come with them are still new, and enforcing this violation in your homeowners association will bring unique challenges, as well as the ability to locate the operator.
Drones and Privacy
On October 6, 2015, Governor Brown signed AB 856, expanding privacy protections by changing the definition of a “physical invasion of privacy” to include sending a drone into the airspace above someone’s land in order to make a recording or take a video.
In the previous month, the Governor vetoed a bill that would have made flying a drone above someone’s property without permission a trespassing violation. Before Governor Brown signed and vetoed the bills there was no authority over the flying of drones.
With these recent developments law enforcement and homeowners associations will be learning and adapting with the rest of California’s rapidly changing laws and enforcement.
There are rules for hobbyists and rules for non-hobby activity. As stated by Attorney Adam Jeffrey of Adams Kessler, “to fly a drone without registering it requires that it be flown strictly for hobby or recreational use (Public Law 112-95 section 336).
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has applied model aircraft guidelines to drones, which they classify as "unmanned aircraft systems" (Interpretation of Special Rule for Model Aircraft).
Drones for Business Purposes
Let’s say an HOA board member is using a drone to inspect and film the HOA's roofing company. This would likely be deemed a "business" purpose not recreational. However, FAA policy specifically excludes the use of unmanned aircraft systems for business purposes. (72 FR at 6690.) Business purposes are not limited to for-profit companies but would apply to nonprofit homeowners associations as well.
It seems silly, but that means an HOA board member flying a drone to document roof work for the Association will need to get a section 333 exemption. As of September 22, 2015, the FAA had granted 1,658 such exemptions, mostly for aerial photography and surveying.
It’s recommended that under current FAA guidelines, homeowners associations should not use drones for business purposes such as inspecting common areas, monitoring vendors, documenting rules violations, etc. without first getting an exemption from the FAA.
It's important for HOA board members to stay up-to-date about new and changing laws relating to your homeowners association - especially when homeowners privacy and safety is involved.
If it all feels like it's too much for your Board to manage, consider contacting The Hignell Companies to learn about hiring a property manager for your HOA.