Drone Photography and Real Estate Agents

Brad Jones

“Drones”, or unmanned aerial systems (“UAS”), have made their into the marketing tool kits for many real estate agents, and for good reason.  A UAS can help produce splendid aerial views of properties for sale and give listing agents the ability to market properties in ways that were previously impractical or cost prohibitive.  Your marketing literature will stand out from the crowd with the photography UASs can provide.  However, obtaining these shots with a UAS can subject you to liability if you do not follow the applicable laws and rules concerns the operation of these systems.

First of all, operation of a UAS, particularly for commercial applications such as aerial photography, generally requires that the operator hold an FAA issued pilot rating.  The standards to obtain the required pilot certificate are less than those required to operate a manned aircraft, but certification is nevertheless required.  Operating most UASs without a proper and current FAA issued rating is illegal and subjects both the UAS pilot and the person who hires the UAS pilot to civil penalties, fines, and other possible liabilities.

Agents should also consider the FAA requires any UAS weighing more than 0.55 pounds to be registered.  That’s right; a UAS weighing slightly more than ½ of a pound would need to be registered.  With certain exceptions for model airplanes, you should consider that even a UAS to be operated for pleasure and non-commercial applications may require registration with the FAA and is certainly subject to all rules regarding UAS operations.  If a UAS is unregistered and being operated for aerial photography purposes, or otherwise, it is in violation of the law.  The FAA registration number should be visible or readily accessible on the UAS.

UAS certified pilots are instructed on the rules and procedures required for safe and legal operation of a UAS in the U.S. airspace systems.  Effectively, as soon as a UAS leaves the ground, it is within the U.S. airspace system.  Failure to follow the rules may result in injury to persons on the ground, danger to manned aircraft, damage to property, or rule violations that are penalized by fines.  Any of these could result in liability to not only the UAS pilot, but also the person who contracted for those services.

Using a UAS can be a great tool for obtaining impressive marketing materials.  However, you should be cautious about who you hire for these services.  A good and reputable UAS operator will have a proper FAA issued pilot rating, have their UASs registered with the FAA, carry appropriate liability insurance coverage, and comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws regarding business operations.  If you hire someone who does not meet these standards, you are opening yourself up to liability and responsibility for fines, penalties, damages, and other injuries caused by unsafe and improper UAS operations.  Ask to see documentation of all of the above items before you hire a UAS operator.

Brad Jones is licensed to practice in NC and SC, and has been closing real estate transactions in the Charlotte area for over 13 years.  He is also an active and certificated pilot with ratings to operate single engine land based aircraft, and small unmanned aerial systems.  Brad can help you with questions about UAS operations.  Feel free to call Black, Slaughter & Black, P.A., at (704) 970-1593 for further assistance with these matters.