Breaking News: FAA Intimidates Coldwell Banker And Other Realtors To Stop Drone Photography

July 11th, 2014

FAAIntimidationAs of 3 PM Eastern  7/11, Gregory McNeal at Forbes.com reports that:

Forbes has learned that the FAA’s investigations have succeeded in intimidating NRT —the nation’s largest residential real estate brokerage company — into advising their members to not only cease flying drones as part of their work, but to also cease using drone footage.

This is a troubling development in an ongoing saga over the FAA’s rules which punish the safe commercial use of drones. Currently, the FAA does not prohibit the use of drones for a hobby — flying over your home and taking pictures of it for fun is allowed, but because real estate drones take pictures for a commercial purpose, the FAA prohibits their use.

Read Gregory’s full article here.

Update 7/12: Allan MacKenzie, in Brisbane, AU sent me this link that explains that even though on the Gold Coast they have laws and people regulating UAVs they are having trouble stopping the Cowboy drone operators.

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22 Responses to “Breaking News: FAA Intimidates Coldwell Banker And Other Realtors To Stop Drone Photography”

  • I keep on hearing that people are concerned about violations of their privacy. Now if they would step back and think about it, they are more likely to be spied on by the 14 year old down the street than someone who is on a commercial assignment.

  • I forwarded this to my congressman. I doubt if it will make a difference, but if everyone would notify their congressman, it might make a difference.

  • Good news! Hope everyone chickens out so the few that do it will be more noticeable…..really isn’t as valuable if every Real Estate agent offers it. Challenges are exactly what makes something more valuable and less doing it.

  • I just hope that all the publicity will push the FAA into action.

  • @Jason, so you think the FAA should thin the herd by scaring off the people who aren’t very good at aerial photography and leaving it for those that are? Anytime the Government get into picking winners and losers, we all lose. I don’t think what your hoping for will happen, it will be illegal for everyone.

    @Hans, the FAA is certainly going to take action, probably not what anyone who wants to operate a small AP business profitably want to hear.

  • @Chuck

    Yes, I think they really need to be careful who they allow to use a drone. 70%-80% of realtors can barely run their own business properly and have trouble with the very BASIC skills like using a computer, uploading photos, unziping a zip file etc. so having them now attempting to fly a drone “just because they can” is a big no no in my opinion.

    Thats not so say that the competent realtors shouldn’t either, there just needs to be a very strict standard somehow.

    Picturing some of the agents I work with flying a drone makes me cringe with fear……lol

  • These are the questions that are going through my mind as I read this.

    1. Why is the FAA targeting real estate companies rather than photography companies?

    2. Can the FAA Cite the real estate company/realtor for using the footage/hiring a drone operator?

    3. What is the point of intimidating Real Estate companies if they are not the ones who are operating the drones and cannot be cited?

    4. If the real estate company cannot be punished for breaking this law, then what do they have to lose by following it? Or do they have to turn in the photographers info?

    5. I’ve read somewhere that this is law is not even enforceable. Are there any incidents where a photographer or realtor has ACTUALLY been cited? How did the conviction occur? How much was the fine? Can documentation be provided?

  • Part of the reason they target relators is because it works. This started about three years ago when a letter sponsored by the MPAA, LA Film and the LA sherif’s department was sent to the California Association of Realtors stating that it was against the law to use footage shot from an RC commercially. They followed that up stating that real estate photographers also required permits to shoot real estate in LA County.

    The whole requiring permits thing blew over but the amount of property aerial was greatly reduced, realtors didn’t want to be involved and they certainly weren’t prepared to challenge the legality. That was until DJI started selling the Phantom at places like Samy’s Camera and B&H, I guess once that started people thought the issue must have been resolved.

  • We are a professional company often putting $10-20 K drones in the air to take aerial real estate photography & video. We also provide a waiver of liability to our customers.
    Most flights are pre-programmed, fully autonomous which makes it virtually impossible to intentionally invade privacy. We keep full records of our flight data for inspection if needed later. Due to the cost of equipment at risk (now over 1 year of production with 4 UAVs we have incurred no significant losses from accidents) we take our efforts very serious. Both myself and partner have private pilot licenses (not that has any real bearing on this subject).
    Currently the FAA has lost 2 significant cases regarding use of drones (UAVs) for commercial use, however, they are currently entering appeals.
    In a nutshell the reason for losing the cases: Guidelines are not LAWS. Currently there are no laws specifically against the use of Drones for Commercial applications.
    In California there are two Bills at various stages of completion. AB-15 & AB-1327. Neither specifically prohibits the use of UAVs for Commercial applications.
    Santa Monica has passed an ordinance prohibiting any type of drone use both hobby and commercial. There are however several cities considering passing ordinances prohibiting commercial use.

    If you are considering using drones or hiring a professional you need an ACCURATE understanding of the law and not outdated information based on speculation floating on the internet!
    We have not had any problems nor have we been hassled by authorities (to date).

    Our basic guidelines:
    1. Know and understand Airspace classifications. i.e. Class A,B,C and D airport designations. Do not violate controlled air space regulations.
    2. Post notification of your intent to immediate adjoining properties 24 hours prior to shooting.
    3. Fly all flights within line of site.
    4. We use multiple redundant backup systems and Fail Safe features
    5. Maximum elevation relative to location 400 feet.
    6. Pretest all systems prior to liftoff.
    7. Provide at least 1 qualified observer to assist potential navigation problems or obstacles with 2-way radios.
    8. Have an up to date insurance policy providing adequate liability. Typically 2 million will suffice.

    If you want to go to your local hobby store and purchase a Phantom with a GoPro and use it commercially…..Know the law!
    Take precautions. They are NOT toys when used in this arena!

  • @Roy

    1. The real estate companies are probably higher profile, but the FAA is also sending letters to the operators.
    2. Sure. If I ask somebody to steal a set of airbag replacements for my car, it doesn’t matter that I didn’t do the actual stealing. I would be enticing somebody to commit a crime.
    3. That’s the big question. The comments that the defense attorneys make about the guidelines published by the FAA are completely unenforceable has to be taken with a grain of salt. They HAVE to say that if they are representing clients defending themselves against such a charge. If they made public statements not in keeping with that view, their clients could possibly sue them and the Bar might censure them for an ethics violation.
    4. Given a way to distance themselves, I’m sure real estate agent’s will happily throw the aerial photographers they use under the bus.
    5. Cited, yes. The case that is all in a knot with the FAA on one side and the NTSB on another and “Trappy” on the third is about reckless operation and not about flying a RCMA commercially. I haven’t heard of any other citations being issued, just cease and desist letters. There is a big difference between being cited and being convicted. Fines are often quoted as being between $10k and $15k, but I haven’t seen news of fines being demanded or ordered by a court.

    If you would like to pick a fight with the Federal Government, go ahead. Your attorney’s fees might wipe you out even if you win. Roll the dice and take your chances.

    The “permit” thing in LA county is odd. Nearly all incorporated cities that I am aware of require that all businesses operating within city limits have a city business license. Some counties may have a code that require businesses in unincorporated areas hold a business license issued by the county. These ordinances apply to ALL businesses providing services within a given city regardless of whether they have a business license in another city. Contractors are often targeted by Code Enforcement since they can be very visible on job sites. If a city asks an agent whom shot the aerial photos/video and the city finds that the operator does not have a business license in that city, the operator can be fined. If the city enacts an ordinance requiring a permit or has a ban on RCMA commercial photography, the operator could be fined for that as well. Getting nailed by a city is far more of threat than being tagged by the FAA. So far, RE photographers haven’t been targeted by Code Enforcement squads, but they could.

  • @ Roy

    It is not a law…it is a rule that the FAA is attempting to enforce. To my knowledge they have imposed one fine on an individual and the courts overruled the fine. As to be expected, the FAA is appealing the judge’s decision.

    The issue I have with using an UAS in my business is the ability to acquire affordable liability insurance that will cover me in case of an accident. I have yet to hear of anyone that has coverage that will cover them in case of an accident using an UAS. It may be very unlikely that I would have an accident that would cause property damage or injure someone, but it is possible. That is a risk I am not willing to take without insurance.

  • Clarification:

    Forbes has learned that the FAA’s investigations have succeeded in intimidating NRT —the nation’s largest residential real estate brokerage company — into advising their members to not only cease flying drones as part of their work, but to also cease using drone footage.

    KEYWORDS: “ADVISING”

    This is a troubling development in an ongoing saga over the FAA’s rules which punish the safe commercial use of drones. Currently, the FAA does not prohibit the use of drones for a hobby — flying over your home and taking pictures of it for fun is allowed, but because real estate drones take pictures for a commercial purpose, the FAA prohibits their use.

    KEYWORDS: “FAA PROHIBITS THEIR USE” but current has no legal authority to regulate under current laws. Pressure is on the FAA to draft up to date guidelines with consideration to commercial use of drones. 2015 is slated as the target date. Insiders have stated they are really dragging their feet on this one.

  • @Ken @Kerry

    Thank you for the clear and concise explanations and answers. I wonder if there are any “rules” that would prohibit the use of TETHERED drones? ie: http://www.fotokite.com/

  • @ Roy
    If you take the current implied guidelines that the FAA is using literally. Taylor Townsend, pro tennis player, could be charged! When an object becomes airborne in enters US controlled airspace (specifically stated by FAA). If the game is just for fun…..no violations. However, when played for money……look out the FAA could literally classify that as commercial aviation.

    This may sound ridiculous but this is the fact.

    Regulations need to be addressed and soon. This is becoming an extremely controversial matter that need all concerned to become activists.

  • Roy ——>

    If you take the current implied guidelines that the FAA is using literally. Taylor Townsend, pro tennis player, could be charged! When an object becomes airborne in enters US controlled airspace (specifically stated by FAA). If the game is just for fun…..no violations. However, when played for money……look out the FAA could literally classify that as commercial aviation.

    This may sound ridiculous but this is the fact.

    Regulations need to be addressed and soon. This is becoming an extremely controversial matter that need all concerned to become activists.

  • That’s the way I saw it, Ruel. The thing with laying objects in a sport is that the ball or puck or whatever is somewhat predictable, so they take safety precautions like rink glass, or netting, or fencing based on what they expect to happen, and they have a pretty good idea of how far a tennis ball or baseball will travel when hit the hardest, and the duration it will be “in the airspace” (typically seconds).

    A drone can be up from 30 seconds to 1/2 an hour, and can be maneuvered with intent, or become out of control when communication is lost, and that requires a different set of rules then airborne sports paraphernalia. On top to that, the TSA has been making people turn some electronic devices on now, to illustrate that they are what they look like (instead of an iphone C4 pack… zioks!). Since similar devices can be mounted to UAV’s, hwo would anybody know whether it was a camera or a kaboom until after the fact? I think that’s part of what’s under their skin, especially given the ease at which the Boston bombers applied it so simply.

  • As a pilot I can assure you that the FAA has muscle behind them to enforce their actions. Even if someone could win a simple case against them in court, it would cost many thousands of dollars. I am in business to make money, not throw it away on situations that are clearly out of my control. I’ll let the Don Quixote types fight this one.

    As a business, I assume all that are engaged in this type of coverage have an insurance policy that addresses “drone” use? What are the rates for this added coverage that you are paying? When I looked into the rates with my insurance broker, she said that they would not cover anything to do with it and that liabilities were off the chart for anyone using them. “You could be sued simply by someone looking up at your drone and tripping” she said. Again, win or not, it would cost thousands of dollars to defend, not to mention the time or stress of the matter. As to the “waiver of liability”, she said that would not be worth the paper it was printed on. You can not assign a waiver to third parties.

    Something to think about, a couple of post back was on the subject of “Ethics” and what was crossing the line. Now in this post, I see a lot replies that are suggesting ways to “skirt” the rules or just flat out ignore them. Interesting

  • FAA will allow by 2015. Too much interest and money in a future 400 billion dollar industry.

  • @Jason – Yes, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directs the FAA to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system by Sept of 2015, but it is very unlikely they are going to meet this goal. Even Congress is skeptical they will make it see: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/05/faa-drones-inspector-general-gao/5226427/. They have made little or no progress in 2 years and keep exhibiting extreme incompetence in this area… and RCMA will probably be their last priority. I’m standing by to be amazed, but I’m not optimistic.

  • @Jerry, your certainly not the only pilot here. The FAA did not simply lose a court case, a federal judge ruled that the guidelines they issued in 2007 were not valid because he also ruled that the FAA did not have the jurisdiction to regulated model aircraft. Insurance ranges from approximately $1200 to 1500 for 2M liability coverage.

    Regarding ethics, there are no rules to skirt, no one is suggesting breaking the law, trouble is the FAA has not been able to define the law. Now they are attempting to circumnavigate the ruling by asking for an interpretation of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. It is not up to us to prove that conducting a legitimate sUAS business breaks any laws, its up to the FAA to prove that it does and there efforts to accomplish that in federal court have failed. So one persons “ethics” is another’s “Tyranny.”

    @Christian, not sure what to make of your comment, Realtors may not have the necessary skills to photograph interiors, edit videos and shoot AP but they have the same rights as anyone else and that right shouldn’t be filtered through the lens of a bureaucrat who knows less than they do about flying MR’s. This isn’t about certification or safety, the FAA is not trying to regulate the hobby, just our ability to operate commercially. Despite your apparent low opinion of realtors abilities they operate a business, I’m sure they will either learn how to fly safely or quickly come to the realization that the reward is not worth the risk and either hire someone who can perform this safely or omit aerial footage from their videos.

    @Ken, here is the list of companies on the FAA’s rule making comitee:
    UAS ARC MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS
    • General Atomics
    • MITRE
    • GE
    • New Mexico State University
    • Raytheon
    • National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)
    • Northrop Grumman
    • Insitu/Boeing
    • Rockwell-Collins
    • Honeywell
    • PBFA
    • DHSCBP
    • ALPA
    • AOPA
    • AUVSI
    • NASA
    • Aero Vironment
    • Lockheed Martin

    Any companies on that list pop out at you that you think would like to see a strong and healthy sUAS industry? What’s the best way for these companies to win marketshare in this emerging market? Regulate out any competition before it even gets started. There is no representation for small businesses on the FAA’s rules committee.

  • @ Kelvin
    The intent here is application. Hobby vs. commercial, Legal vs. Illegal. Anyone anywhere with criminal intent can use virtually anything to commit to create havoc and destruction.
    Your are really getting off the subject with your final comment!
    Let’s see….Boston bombers …..two pressure cooker styled bombs placed in backpacks using “burner” cell phone for remote triggering.
    Now how is this even remotely related to this conversation? (keyword: ‘Remote triggering’? I’m stretching it here for your benefit.) Dispel the fear factor and look at the potential good that could be derived from the technology discussed in this topic.
    This is the essences of the controversy, Fear of technology. I will not go down this path with you.

    @ Chuck S
    I couldn’t have stated it better. I love reading the comments by someone who has educated themselves with facts and not bloating unfounded fear based suppositions.

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