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The growing use of drones by consumers across the U.S. is leading to the adoption of new rules and restrictions by not only government, but also private organizations such as community associations. Questions regarding safety, property damage, and privacy abound with drones, and associations are responding by establishing clear parameters for their use by unit owners.
Can associations prohibit drones from flying over their property? If a drone operated by an owner or a business falls on another owner’s car, will the board be liable for the damage? Should boards themselves use drones to patrol common areas and spot rule violations? If they do, how should they manage the information and images they collect? How will boards balance the privacy concerns of owners and the desire of others to operate drones and/or have them deliver pizzas and packages to their homes?
These are just some of the questions boards will have to address. While it is too soon to offer definitive answers, a few preliminary observations may help frame the issues.
- Boards have the authority to adopt rules banning drones in common areas, and some association attorneys think they should do so proactively. Their concern: Boards that don’t control drones now may lose the ability to do so if federal or state laws or regulations broadly permit their operation.
- Instead of banning drones entirely, which will upset some owners, boards could consider regulations limiting their size or specifying where and when they can land in common areas. Although associations can’t ban the ownership of drones, they can prohibit drones from flying within a specified distance of owners’ units or require drone operators to obtain permission from residents before photographing them or their property.
- The liability concerns surrounding drones will be large and complicated. Insurance companies are just beginning to evaluate the risks and opportunities in this emerging market. Boards should check with their insurance agents to determine what their existing policies cover and what additional coverages they may need.
- Even if boards aren’t yet ready to act, they should start discussing policies, procedures and regulations governing drones before they begin fielding the inevitable questions, complaints and law suits related to them. Two years ago, we would have said that drones are coming. Today, we have to say, they’re here. The challenge for community associations is finding ways to live with them.
If an association concludes that it wishes to permit the operation of drones in the community, it should consider the adoption of rules and restrictions to help ensure safety. These include the establishment of designated take-off/landing sites, restricting their use to daylight hours, developing penalties for violations, and clarifying that the association is not liable for any property damage caused by these aircraft. Additionally, the association board or management should consult with its insurance agent or consultant to confirm that it is adequately insured with regard to the risks that may be presented as a result of the use of drones at the property governed by the association.
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