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Drones are increasingly popular, with well over five million sold in the US. It should be pretty common to spot one over your property.
If you like drones and don’t have an issue with them flying around your house, they can pass by without consequence. However, drones sometimes fly at low altitudes near some residential areas.
Is that allowed, and how low can drones go over private property?
According to FAA rules, the lowest a drone can fly is within 400 feet of private property. However, drone pilots must have a property owner’s permission before launching or landing on private property.
What if you don’t permit them? What can you do to prohibit them from flying over your property illegally?
Let’s find out!
Can you fly a drone over private property? #
Drones can fly over private property if your residence is in unrestricted Class G airspace.
In this zone, any drone can fly up to 400 feet without permission from the FAA.
But they still need your authorization to fly low over your property.
This means that if you feel uncomfortable with the drone being too near your property, you can report it to the authorities.
When can’t you fly a drone over private property? #
The only way the authorities will react to a drone flying above your residence is when you alert them about your discomfort.
However, that discomfort must be valid for the authorities to proceed.
For example, in the following scenarios, you have a case if a drone flies over private property.
Drone operation after dark is prohibited for recreational and commercial drones over residential areas unless they have consent or authorization from the authority to fly at night.
The drone must have lights to safely fly.
Over altitude and speed limitations #
This one can be tricky to ascertain, as you might not know the drone’s current altitude.
You can use reference points like a 30-story building or a communication tower.
Those structures tend to be equal to or more than 400 feet in height, so it’s perfect to compare.
How fast the drone flies is also complicated for beginners to gauge.
Legally, a drone can’t fly over 100 mph around people and obstacles like houses.
So how do you know the drone’s speed?
The truth is that most drones won’t achieve that speed. Only drones that racing pilots use go that fast, and it’s hard to spot the difference at a distance.
As a rule of thumb, If you see a drone flying at an altitude of about a 14-story building very fast, that’s enough reason to contact the police.
Privacy violations #
Most drones now come with follow-me capabilities.
A drone could fly in a pattern while taking pictures or filming your property, any member of your family, or yourself.
The best way to spot a drone spying on you is if it turns the camera toward you or your property while flying.
The automatic follow modes of drones are optical, so the target must always be on camera.
When to contact the authorities about drone violations #
How can you be confident that the drone is flying low enough to get photos or videos of you or your property?
Consider these scenarios.
- Is the drone flying around your home at night without your authorization?
- Is the drone flying near your roof? How about your house in general?
- If the drone flies in a circular motion, is your home in the center of that circle?
- Is the drone camera always pointing toward your property?
If you answer yes to those questions, you should contact the authorities, as someone is likely spying on you with a drone.
» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Town?
Contacting the FAA #
When a drone flies at night, at high speed, or at a low altitude from your property, it’s an FAA-related matter.
The FAA condemns these acts as stated in FAR 107, as the drone can cause property damage or harm you or your family.
You can reach out to the FAA and report the drone pilot as follows:
- Go to this FAA link.
- Click the list menu to select the state you live in. You’ll find the menu above the map in the top right corner.
- Once you select it, the map will show you the offices where you can raise your report.
- Hover the yellow pointer to check the address of the office. If you find the FAA headquarters too far from your place, you can send the report by email.
- Below the map and after selecting a state, you’ll find the office in a table format. If you’re unsure about reporting the drone, call the FAA headquarters for advice. You can find the phone number on the facility webpage.
- Click the Visit Office Website link on the right portion of the table. It will redirect you to the FAA portal to contact the FAA facility in your state.
- You’ll find a page with the Email the Office link highlighted in blue. Click it.
- Your preferred email provider will open. Now you can write the email reporting there is a drone that is flying low around your property.
The FAA can track all recreational and commercial drones in US airspace thanks to mandatory Remote ID laws.
The FAA knows exactly which drone flew your property, at which altitude, and who its owner is.
Contacting the police #
You should also contact the police, especially if you’re being spied on.
Look up your local non-emergency number and call (unless you feel physically threatened or in danger, then dial 911 or your equivalent).
Clearly explain the situation and state your name, address, and the address the drone pilot lives (if you know it).
The police will come to your home, where you can describe the situation to an officer.
The officer will find the pilot and determine how to handle the matter, whether through a verbal warning or charging them with a crime.
What if the case is recurrent? What to do #
Generally speaking, if a drone flies low over your property once, chances are that it’s a mistake.
However, it’s intentional if you spot a drone flying low on your property using a camera repeatedly.
Here is where the police will advise you to contact the FAA, going directly to the headquarters or by email.
How do drone pilots know if they’re infringing on the law? #
Now let’s switch gears and discuss residential drone flight safety for pilots.
Always inform your neighbors about flying a drone near their properties.
Explain the reasons for flying the drone low. If you have any authorization for a particular job, show it to them.
Give them a timeframe. Set an approximate start and end time you will fly the drone low on their properties.
These simple actions can help you avoid dealing with the police, as your neighbors will know your reasons and when to expect to see a drone flying around.
However, not all property owners will believe you or feel comfortable.
In these scenarios, looking for another location where property owners let you fly without trouble is better.
Can I take off from my private property with a drone if I have neighbors? #
No drone law prevents you for taking off from your property.
However, you cannot launch (or land) a drone on your neighbor’s property.
There’s a difference between flying a drone over someone else’s property and you physically being there, as the latter is trespassing.
Besides, remember that if a drone falls or loses control, it can damage your neighbor’s property or the people within it.
We advise you to always clarify your intentions about your drone taking off, even when it’s from your property.
» MORE: Can You Fly Drones Over Private Property?
What to do if I fly a drone too close to another property? #
Each property area has tight limits in a neighborhood, so it’s almost impossible not to fly a drone near another property.
Talk to your neighbors and indicate your intentions. Clarify to them that you aren’t filming or taking pictures of them as you fly. You’re just flying for fun.
People will understand when you specify your reasons and guarantee the safety of their property and loved ones.
What if you’re using your drone commercially?
As a commercial pilot, you know no law inhibits you from flying close to another property in uncontrolled airspace.
However, the people who own those properties can impede your flight path.
Most people will understand you are working and let you be. Just consider some homeowners won’t listen to any justification.
Having a legal authorization that allows you to fly close to their properties like a roof inspection or a cleaning procedure helps.
Always carry your certificates and credentials, along with the permissions before attempting to fly close to that property.
Do I have to register my drone to fly it in my backyard? #
Registering your drone depends on its weight more than the location you want to fly it.
If your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds, you must register it, even if you only fly it in your backyard.
Most toy drones weigh less than 0.55 pounds, so they don’t need registration.
There are professional drones under 250 grams that don’t need registration and can film crisp footage.
Check the specs of your drone from the manufacturer and then weigh it to determine if you must register it.
» MORE: Get a Drone License (Ultimate Guide)
What to do if someone calls the police on me for flying a drone in my backyard #
Privacy is a delicate factor.
You can fly your drone in your backyard at a reasonable altitude, where it’s safe.
However, people may be alarmed simply by seeing a drone flying near their properties.
For them, the drone invades their privacy, even though the drone never goes near them.
Save the logs of each flight with the videos and pictures.
That way, you have the means to explain that you aren’t spying on your neighbors.
How to deal with accusations from neighbors even if I didn’t fly my drone over their property #
Pay special attention to the FAA regulations and commit to them.
Don’t fly at night and don’t fly at more than 100 mph and 400 feet above ground level.
Also, avoid flying over people.
This way, you know you’re using your drone properly if a neighbor accuses you of invading their privacy by flying low over their property.
Remember, you can justify the compliance of these FAA rules with your flight logs.
Your neighbors can moan and try to persuade the police to get you fined, but you own data will be critical to defend your position.
What to do if I crash my drone in someone else’s backyard #
You must avoid trespassing on the property at all costs.
Always face the consequences of your actions and act as a civilized drone pilot.
Knock on your neighbor’s door, call, or write them. Apologize for the inconvenience.
Ask them about any damages you might have caused and what you can do to amend them.
Finally, ask them to allow you to retrieve your drone or get it for you.
Can I fly a drone around a busy neighborhood? #
The FAA rules state as follows: “A remote pilot in command may not operate a small unmanned aircraft over open-air assemblies of human beings.
Additionally, a remote pilot in command may only operate a small unmanned aircraft over people if:
- The operation is within or over a closed- or restricted-access site and all people on site are on notice that a small UAS may fly over them; or
- The small unmanned aircraft does not maintain sustained flight over any person unless that person is participating directly in the operation or located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.”
You must avoid flying over a busy neighborhood, as it infringes on FAA rules.
If an FAA inspector or the police find out your drone is flying around a busy neighborhood, you will get in trouble.
Someone crashed a drone into my backyard. What should I do? #
If the drone didn’t hurt your property, goods, loved ones, or friends, you can wait until the pilot contacts you with an apology and explanation of why the drone crashed in your backyard.
You can also reach the police. If something is out of their jurisdiction, they will contact the local aviation authority.
Either way, you must act as soon as you notice the drone in your backyard. Please be careful with the drone, as they tend to be expensive tools.
Take pictures of it as it crashed, and don’t touch it. Leave it there until its owner shows up.
The best scenario is that the pilot comes for it, apologizes, asks about any damages caused, grabs the drone, and leave.
Some pilots will try to persuade you of having damaged their drone if they see the opportunity.
That’s why you need to take pictures of the drone once it crashes when possible.
Also, ask the pilot about the drone logs, as they store critical data before the crash, such as falling speed.
Is someone spying on me if flying a drone low over my private property? #
As a drone pilot that uses drones as tools to work, I can guarantee that not all people spy on you when flying low over your property.
But there are still creepy drone owners, and it’s wise to be alert.
Drones are almost ubiquitous now, and the police know how to deal with them.
Tell them why you think the drone spied on you.
If you have a photograph or video of the drone pointing at your property, show it to the police.
Can someone take photos of my property with a drone? #
If you allow them, they can.
The drone pilot must always ask for your consent while taking the photos.
The photographer must take the photos in daylight, and at a reasonable height and distance that doesn’t invade your privacy.
Can I shoot down a drone if flying low above my property? #
Although you can defend your property from intruders, drones are assets you can’t shoot without a serious reason.
In fact, it can be dangerous to shoot it down, as the drone can lose control and cause damage.
More importantly, it’s illegal to shoot down a drone or use signal jammers or nets.
The best thing to do in this situation is to call the police.
» MORE: What Happens If You Shoot Down a Drone?