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Eye In The Sky: Drone Usage and Rules in Community Associations

Over the past few years, federal, state, and local governments have grappled with the rocketing popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. The issue has also become a point of concern for some associations as they deal with the challenges and potential benefits of private drone use.

The sudden rise and popularity in civilian drone use has meant that there are very few laws governing their use. This is true of federal and state law, and the laws governing associations in Ohio. The Ohio condominium and homeowners association statutes are silent on the issue of drones and virtually all governing documents are silent, as well. So what does this all mean for associations and owners who use drones?

Despite a lack of consistent rules regarding drone use, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has put down some basic important rules for the use of private drones.

Generally, drones should not fly within 3 miles of any airport. This prohibition is likely to keep many drone aficionados from buzzing around or near the airports. Communities around airports such as North Olmsted, Strongsville, Middleburg Heights, Lyndhurst, Euclid, South Euclid, Port Clinton and more could all be affected by this rule.

Drones may never be flown over 400 feet from the ground. Many municipal jurisdictions regulate or prohibit flying drones near heavily populated areas, or homes and businesses that are clustered together. These rules are just a few of the regulations that might keep owners and associations from using drones around your community. Practically speaking however, subject to the local jurisdiction regulations, if any, an association will be able to exercise far greater control over the use of drones than the FAA.

Generally speaking, an association can make rules that limit or outright ban the use of drones on common areas. As with any rule adopted by a board, the rule must be reasonable and relate to the health, safety, and enjoyment of the common areas. The rule must also be evenly and fairly enforced, and the rule must be published and the owners must be given notice.

Finally, many associations are likely to ask if the association itself can use a drone, for instance to inspect the property. Such use is subject to the FAA regulations as well as any local jurisdiction regulations as stated above. From the association owners’ viewpoint, some, if not many, owners would be very uncomfortable if they feel the association’s purpose is to “keep an electronic eye” on the owners. Any rule permitting the association to conduct aerial inspections must take into account the privacy rights and concerns of the owners.

In addition, the association’s use of a drone assumes the drone is being used in common area airspace. In a homeowners association where the association is not the titled owner of the property and there are individual lots, the airspace above the individual lots is not common element airspace, the Association may have trespassing and privacy issues if the Board chooses to use drones over non-association controlled property.

If the Association is considering rules regarding drone usage, it may also want to consider rules regarding all model aircraft, including small airplanes or helicopters, which may present a nuisance to the owners.

If you have any questions about drone use and/or the making rules surrounding drone use, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

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