Current laws and rules on the use of drones

QUESTION:  What are the latest rules, laws and suggestions for the use of drones in photographing and marketing real estate?

ANSWER: The National Association of REALTORS® has published an excellent list of frequently asked questions concerning the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (or  drones) by real estate professionals. That FAQ can be accessed by clicking here. NAR’s website is updated as the law changes on this topic, so be sure to check it  periodically for important changes.

As of the date of this Q&A, the general rule is that the use of drones for real estate marketing is prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). However, there is  an important exception to this rule: the FAA has the ability to issue what are known as “Section 333 waivers”. These waivers grant authorization for certain unmanned aircraft  to perform commercial operations on a case-by-case basis. Brokers interested in using a drone in connection with their real estate marketing activities can apply for a Section 333 waiver; the application procedure is described on the FAA’s website.

As an alternative, brokers may hire an individual or company to operate a drone on their behalf. However, before doing so, brokers should verify that the individual or  company has obtained the required Section 333 waiver. NAR’s website has a list of the individuals and companies specific to the real estate industry that have been granted  Section 333 waivers.

New federal rules governing drone use should be expected. In fact, Congress gave the FAA a September 30, 2015 deadline to develop new rules to govern the commercial  use of drones in the national air space. However, the rule-making process has been delayed; NAR now believes that the new rules will not be issued before August 2016.  Until the FAA issues those rules, the Section 333 waiver will be required.

The commercial use of drones is also governed by state law. In August, 2015, Governor McCrory signed a new law which requires anyone operating a drone in North  Carolina for commercial purposes to first obtain a permit issued by the Division of Aviation of the State Department of Transportation. Since the state’s permitting process has  not yet been implemented, the statute provides that a user with FAA authorization will not be deemed in violation of the state statute as long as that user obtains the required  permit within 60 days after the permitting process is implemented.

North Carolina’s statutes contain some other prohibitions to keep in mind. One example: drones may not be launched or recovered from private property without the property  owner’s permission. Also, with limited exceptions, it is illegal to photograph a person while using a drone for commercial purposes without that person’s consent.

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