Nevada has been designated by the feds as a state in which testing sites are being utilized for pilotless commercial aircraft, or drones. The Federal Aviation Administration has outlined a testing plan with the goal of integrating the unmanned aircraft into U.S. commercial airspace by the end of September 2015. But those test sites are specific, government defined locations, and until the FAA gets regulations about drones on the books, their use is, for now, off limits. “Off limits” doesn’t equate with “non-existent,” though, and Nevada real estate lawyers are some of the first to remark that clients are using drones anyway, despite threats of fines in excess of $10,000 according to this online article about rural real estate properties.
Especially for home owners trying to sell sprawling properties like ranches or grazing land, using drones to take aerial photos and video of their property is the most practical decision. And for sellers with land and homes with values at half a million dollars and up, a fine of $10,000 seems nothing more than a cost to be borne, if a sale can come out of it, say Nevada real estate lawyers like Michael Van. Although an attorney could never counsel a client to deliberately engage in activities on which there is a federal ban, some lawyers are saying that the legality of drone usage is “pretty murky.”
FAA spokesperson Elizabeth Isham Cory disagrees. “It’s not complicated. Violations of the ban carry a potential fine of $10,000, and using drones in real estate marketing is a violation.” Apparently flying a drone for a hobby or recreation is okay, but utilizing one to aid in the sale of a home or property would probably be considered commercial usage according to Nevada real estate lawyers like Van, and thus liable for a fine. The FAA website confirms that it’s a myth that the FAA doesn’t control airspace below 400 feet. It does. “From the ground up,” the FAA is given broad authority and responsibility by federal statues for air safety.
Still, that information doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for real estate agencies. One Wisconsin agency, for example, seems cavalier in considering the federal consequences and is convinced that drone photography contributes to providing a holistic feel for representing such rural sprawling properties and provides his agency with a competitive edge. Nevada real estate lawyers can confirm that businesses are getting restless, despite the federal ban on drone usage.
In a letter sent by “33 industry groups interested in forcing a quicker agency decision,” business owners lament the ban’s impact on companies’ competitive edge, with others considering “the use of a drones a business imperative, a case of keeping up with the technology.” The FAA hasn’t responded, but currently has only proposed two fines for unlawful drone use, “limiting most of its intermittent enforcement actions to verbal or written warnings.” And one of those fines is being challenged in court, but it’s hard to see a way around the federal ban for real estate agents, clients and lawyers until “appellate decisions say otherwise or the new FAA rules are released.”