Drones vs Landowners – What Can You Do?

What are the rights of Maryland landowners if a drone flies over your property? What laws do drone operators have to abide by in Maryland?

We will tell you what you need to know.

I had a drone flying over my property not long ago. I thought it was sort of cool and unique at the time.

But it was over my house, and I admit it caused a moment’s concern.

Then I thought about how I would feel if it was hovering over my backyard while my teenage daughter was outside? I think I would have a different reaction.

What if some creepy guy was using it to spy on you or your family? What is someone was using it to harass you? Can you take action to prevent this?

We will explain what you can – and more importantly what you can’t – do.

Can I Shoot it Down?

Some people might wonder if they were in their rights to shoot down the drone flying over their property. We can tell you the answer is no.

You cannot do this – at least not legally. See below for details. But more importantly, you would be committing a crime and you could get yourself in trouble.

A few people across the US have shot drones out of the sky. They end up in the news. And almost all of them got in trouble with the law.

Keep in mind that drone likely has a camera streaming video back to the operator. They will probably have highly incriminating video of you with your gun aiming it right at the camera. It won’t be hard to convict you of a crime!

The way Maryland is about guns, I don’t think things are going to go well for you if you shoot a drone out of the sky. This is not advisable under any circumstances.

Call the Police

If you think someone is playing peeping tom by drone, then you should call the police and let them handle it.

I know what you are thinking – the police will never get there in time. They won’t find the operator. This is a waste of time.

Not necessarily. Drones are supposed to be registered with the FAA, and they may be able to track down the operator.

If you are in this situation, we advise you to take your own photos or videos of the drone so you can prove what it did, and maybe catch some identifying marks that allow it to be tracked down. At the least, this will allow the cops to identify it if they do catch the drone operator.

Can I do Anything Else?

The short answer is – not really. Under current Maryland law, you cannot do much to prevent this sort of thing.

You could go to court (see below) but that would require knowing who was flying the drone, and it would take time and money. It is likely to be impractical.

The Law on Drones

It is very thin at the moment, at least in Maryland. There are laws for drone operators, but not so many for protecting property owners.

This is one of those issues where technology is ahead of the law.

There is almost nothing concrete in state law preventing a drone operator from doing anything they want as of this writing in 2019. Almost no statutes exist, and almost no cases have made it into the Maryland courts about this issue.

The law on drones in Maryland is still an open book waiting to be written.

Federal law does require that any drone hobbyist register with the FAA. That means that if you can identify the drone, you should be able to track it down. Of course, that does nothing for you if the drone operator did not follow the law and registered his or her drone.

Years ago, the law held that if you owned property you owned the airspace above it too. This all changed with the invention of the airplane. Now you do not own the airspace above your property. The government has the right to control it and regulate it.

You can easily see why this is necessary for planes flying through the air. And nobody ever thought this was much of a problem for planes and helicopters that may be hundreds or thousands of feet in the air.

But now we have these small private aircraft hovering only a few feet over our property. And most of them have cameras on them. It isn’t hard to see the potential benefits of drones. But it isn’t hard to see how they could be misused either!

As of now, the law simply hasn’t caught up to this new technology. There are some federal regulations on drones, but not enough to prevent one from flying through your yard.

Can I Sue?

Yes. But a lawsuit like this is likely to be expensive, and there are significant hurdles to winning. As we said above, the first hurdle is knowing who to sue. In fact, that may be an insurmountable hurdle. If you get over that hurdle, you have two possible claims.

You could sue for trespass. This is a claim that someone went onto your property and interfered with your use and enjoyment of that property.

But that federal law about airspace is going to be a problem. The law says an aircraft cannot get so close that it is in “the immediate reach of the airspace next to the land.” What does that mean? No courts in Maryland have interpreted it yet. There is no legal guidance to decide how close is “too close.”

You could also sue for nuisance. Nuisance claims can be made when the acts of another so interfere with your use of your property as to deprive you of the use and enjoyment of it.

This sounds like a good legal theory to use against a drone operator. But you would likely need to show repeated acts. You would also have to show a “significant” interference. These cases are very fact specific.

Also, the damages are uncertain. How much does a Judge award you for a drone repeatedly flying over your house? The Judge cannot necessarily impound the drone. You only get money damages. That isn’t exactly what you want in a lawsuit like this, is it?

Conclusion

So first off – don’t shoot down a drone.

And secondly, you have to realize there is not a lot you can do practically if a drone flies over your house.

If there is a repeated pattern, and/or you suspect someone is being creepy, then you should call the police.

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