Real estate agents have been put on notice about their legal obligations when using drones to market properties after a spike in Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) complaints.
The authority has written to the real estate watchdog warning agents that the use of drones to photograph homes is subject to strict regulations and enforceable under Civil Aviation laws.
Aerial photography and video footage from drones is now used in thousands of property listings.
And while drone images can give agents a marketing edge, the hovering cameras are also sparking safety concerns relating to other aircraft and privacy complaints from unsuspecting neighbours.
The Real Estate Authority (REA) posted a warning to agents about their legal obligations in its latest newsletter.
"The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has issued REA with a notice that there has been an increase in consumer complaints associated with real estate listings.
"It is important to remember that drones are classed as aircraft, and their use is regulated by the CAA under Part 101 of the Civil Aviation Rules. You must have permission from the owner of any land you are flying over, and you must have air traffic control and/or aerodrome approval before you take off."
Ollie Wall, of luxury real estate firm Graham Wall, said drone photography was crucial to modern marketing packages.
"Without drone photography it would be impossible to communicate the scale and grandeur of most of the properties we sell."
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The firm spent upwards of $1000 on drone footage for each listing. Its registered drone operators sought the necessary consents from aviation agencies and neighbouring homeowners.
But as the firm sold mainly waterfront homes, their drones did not usually need to fly over other properties.
"The hero images are often of the view from the house or from a drone hovering over the ocean looking toward the home."
The CAA and privacy commissioner warned drone operators last year to heed an important message: "Don't be creepy."
A CAA spokesman told the Herald most unmanned aircraft, including drones, operated under Civil Aviation rules.
Figures released to the Herald show the number of drone complaints to CAA has risen sharply since 2015 (119), 2016 (200), 2017 (370), 2018 (506) and 226 in the year to date.
"Consent of people under flight path not obtained", was the main incident type recorded.
The number of complaints relating to real estate use was low at 25. But a spokesman said most complaints did not specify the reason drones were being flown, so it was likely concerns relating to the industry had risen in line with other complaints.
"Most complaints we receive about drones come from people who believe a drone has flown over their property without their consent. This is also the case for complaints about drones being used for real estate photography.
"Real estate agents and their photographers need to familiarise themselves with [Civil Aviation] rules before they start flying, and make sure they are complying with the rules, especially if they operate in controlled airspace or near an aerodrome."
When rules were breached, the CAA could issue a warning, a fine or pursue prosecution.
Penalties for an individual flying over people or property without their consent range from $500 to $2500.
An Airways spokeswoman said drone operators were required to get air traffic control clearance if operating an aircraft within 4km of an airport.
This was particularly relevant for suburbs such as Hobsonville Point, where thousands of new homes are being developed within range of Whenuapai airbase.
More than 85,000 drone flights had been logged in the past three years.
Photography and filming was the most common purpose for flights. No breakdown was available for real estate work, but real estate and construction were two industries that drone operators most commonly operated in.
Real Estate Institute chief Bindi Norwell said drone use had increased in popularity as vendors and purchasers recognised the importance of aerial photography and video when marketing a property, but also to show the surrounding area, neighbourhood and amenities.
"Whilst operators of small drones do not need to be licensed, real estate agents using drones need to comply with Civil Aviation Authority rules (including only flying in daylight, not higher than 120m above ground level or not closer than 4km to any aerodrome)."
They also had to comply with the Privacy Act - including obtaining consent if flying over neighbouring properties, or from the local authority if flying over public spaces.
Agents should have appropriate insurance policies in case damage occurred as a result of drone operations, Norwell said.