Drone Wars: South Carolina Drone Laws and Your Homeowners Association and Condominium Association

As highlighted in his recent blog post, Jim Slaughter of Law Firm Carolinas., noted the explosion of drone purchasing and use. This post is designed to supplement Jim’s summary of specific drone-related laws passed in North Carolina by providing an update on specific South Carolina drone-related laws.

The recent Christmas season shows that drone purchases are on the rise in South Carolina and nationwide. South Carolina law does not define what type of aircraft would constitute a drone. While most proposed rules and regulations use the terms Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (“UAV”) or Unmanned Aircraft System (“UAS”), South Carolina’s proposed legislation also refers to “remotely piloted aerial vehicles” and “unpiloted aerial vehicles.”

What safety rules apply?

As with all model airplanes and similar devices, the following safety guidelines apply to the use of drones in South Carolina, whether for recreational uses or other uses: (1) fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles, (2) keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times, (3) remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, (4) don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying (5) don’t fly near people or stadiums, (6) Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 pounds, and, of course, (6) don’t be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft.

Aside from safety concerns, the question that most homeowners ask is whether there are any laws in South Carolina that apply.

Lawmakers in South Carolina introduced Senate Bill 498 on March 4, 2015, that would prohibit flying drones equipped with a camera or recording device onto or over private property:

“Any person willfully causing or allowing an unmanned aerial vehicle, an unpiloted aerial vehicle, or a remotely piloted aerial vehicle under his control that is equipped with a camera or a recording device to enter upon or above the lands of another, without the consent of the owner, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor . . . .”

The proposed Bill does not make a distinction between drones used for recreational purposes and those used for business or other similar purposes. Instead, the Bill is primarily concerned with protection of privacy.

It should also be noted that the Bill is aimed at drones equipped with recording devices, and would presumably not apply to drones used for recreational purposes that have no recording device.

Violation of the proposed Bill would be a misdemeanor offense and the proposed initial penalty could include a fine of up to $200 and imprisonment of up to thirty days, or both, with subsequent convictions resulting in greater fines and prison sentences.
The same Bill requires police in South Carolina to obtain a search warrant in order to use a drone to gather evidence, with a few exceptions. Evidence obtained or collected in violation of the proposed new law would also not be admissible as evidence in any criminal prosecution.

The bill has currently been referred to subcommittee and it is unlikely to be considered until the next legislative session.

And, in case any South Carolina homeowners are actively pondering the question of whether to shoot down a drone flying over their homes, remember that doing so may subject you to substantial potential damages, whether or not you actually hit your target.

For those currently using drones equipped with a recording device, remember that all applicable South Carolina privacy-related laws already in place would apply.

For homeowners associations thinking about using drones to gather evidence of covenant violations, we have encouraged adoption of policies that incorporate the proposed new laws and are glad to discuss what a drone policy may look like in your homeowners association or condominium.

HOA & Condo Associations