June 11th, 2013
It is now pretty clear that what you can do with a real estate photography drone will pretty much depend on what state you doing it in, not so much what the FAA ends up doing. The FAA is taking so long every state in the US will have it’s own state law before the FAA acts.
Forty-three US states are considering legislation to regulate the use of drones. Just recently both Oregon and Texas state legislatures passed bills that would outlaw photography or video from small unmanned drones. Here are the details for Oregon and Texas:
- Oregon House Bill 2710: Commercial use of unmanned aircraft such as selling footage taken from a drone is not allowed. This is way more rational than when the bill (Senate Bill 71) started out in February, which made owning a drone illegal and operating one a class C felony.
- Texas: A bill that bans photos and videos captured by unmanned drones won final approval by both Texas legislative chambers. There are some situations where they allow photography, but it doesn’t involve real estate.
Update June 14, 2013: I’ve had two readers point out that the Texas law (still in the process of being signed) does in fact allow commercial real estate type photography if the owner consents. See: Danny’s comments below. He gives a link to the actual text of the bill. So the article I link to in the DallasNews above may not be totally correct. If you are flying in Texas, don’t take me as an authority though, check it out with your local law enforcement.
What is interesting about this subject is that the subject is not politically driven. That is, Oregon and Texas are on complete opposite ends of the political spectrum. Oregon is VERY blue, and Texas is VERY red! Yet in Oregon this bill passed by margins of 52-7 in the House and 23-5 in the Senate. This is driven by peoples paranoia of having their privacy violated. It doesn’t help that in the last month everyone has found out that the NSA has been tracking everyone and their dog since 9/11. Well, maybe only dogs like Astrid the wonder dog that have facebook accounts.
The issue I want to raise is that if you are hanging out waiting for the FAAs new laws that may or may not allow low altitude real estate photography in the US, before you invest in any equipment for real estate photography from a drone you’d better keep careful track of what your state legislature is doing. Those laws may shut you down like operators in Oregon and Texas.
Virginia, Idaho, Florida, Montana, North Dakota and Tennessee have all passed State laws regulating drones. I haven’t studied what any of those states has done. Some laws appear to be aimed a making sure law enforcement obtain a warrant when the use a drone, but many may have a restriction against taking any photos commercially of private property like Oregon and Texas. As this is evolving, I think there is a high likelihood that commercial real estate photography from drones is going to illegal in most US states regardless of what the FAA does. The puzzling thing to me is that all states seem to be giving hobbyists a complete pass. If I were a bad guy with a drone, I’d just appear as a hobbyist!