How to Deal With Nosey Neighbors While Flying a Drone
If you’re a real estate photographer that offers drone services you’ve almost definitely been approached by a neighbor or passerby while you’ve had your drone in air. At best this can be distracting and at worst it can become a hostile situation.
This article outlines your best options to quickly and easily handle a person that’s being a bit too nosey while you’re operating your drone.
Table of Contents
Handling the People that are Simply Curious
Let’s face it, everybody is interested in drones. Whether they’re just hanging out and watching it fly through the sky, or they just want to ask you a few questions about it, most people are going to at least pause for a second and take a look.
Generally, these people are just curious and will only be around for a minute or so. They’re definitely the easiest to handle and never mean to distract you. Here are the best options for dealing with these types of drone curious people:
Kindly Inform Them You Need To Concentrate
When I’m approached by a person while flying a drone on a job it’s almost always just a curious neighbor or bystander. I’m happy to answer a question or 2, but I won’t allow them to stand with me and ask every question they can think of.
One thing I do is just let them know that flying a drone requires lots of concentration. I do this in the kindest manner I can and it usually sounds something like this:
“I’m very sorry, but it’s hard for me to talk and concentrate on flying this drone at the same time. You’re welcome to watch from a safe distance if you’d like though.”
After I say this and they start to realize that I haven’t stopped staring into the sky or at my controller, they get the picture and head on their way. This is usually my go-to choice to be kind, yet dismissive.
Make Small Talk, But Be Short About It
If you’re up for it and won’t be distracted, a little small talk never hurts anybody. I’ll chat with someone if I’m flying my drone in a more rural area where I know there aren’t any hazards and they’re simply interested and being polite about it.
I’ll never dive into any sort of deep conversations, but if they have an easy question about flying drones or drones in general, I’m happy to answer it for them. I’ll keep my answers short and to the point and they’ll usually leave after a while.
One thing I always do is make sure that I inform them they need to move far away if I’m going to be landing the drone. This creates a sense of danger and makes sure that they’re always at a safe distance.
Dealing with People that Can't Take a Hint
After I let them know that I need to concentrate, or I’ve been very short in conversation, and have given all the normal cues to please let me do my job, I’ll be a bit more direct.
Be Upfront And Give Them Directions
If I’ve already delivered the line of “You’re welcome to watch from a safe distance if you’d like though…” and they still haven’t gotten the picture that they need to move on or back way up, I’ll just be up front with them.
Chances are if this person is just curious but can’t really take a hint, this will handle the situation. Here’s what I say:
“I’m going to have to really concentrate now, so you’re free to continue watching if you’d like, but I need you to watch from a safe distance. Across the street should be a safe place for you to stand.”
99% of the time the person will either leave or walk across the street and leave me alone. Sometimes being respectfully direct is the best option.
If you aren’t comfortable being that direct with someone then you can always just walk away.
If you are on a sidewalk or on public property, just go ahead and walk onto the front lawn, into the driveway, or even into the backyard of the house you’re photographing.
This isn’t always an option, but a person that’s just curious and having a hard time taking a hint isn’t going to follow you on to private property. This can be effective even if you have to pause your flight for a minute and walk out of their line of sight.
It’s equally as effective as being direct with them, and will work 99% of the time.
How to Handle Someone Being Hostile
The above 2 categories are much much easier to deal with than a neighbor who is being outright hostile. This doesn’t happen often, but on the occasions that it does, it’s best to have a plan to deal with it.
This will almost always be a neighbor that thinks you are either photographing their property, violating their privacy, or frankly, someone that is not extremely stable to being with. Here are the steps you can take:
Inform Them You’re A Professional
The first thing I always do is inform them that I’m a professional real estate photographer and that I’m only photographing this home for sale.
I try to calm the tension by repeatedly letting them know that I’m only taking photos of this one specific house.
I’ll also let them know that I’m a FAA Certified Pilot and have my license to photograph homes for commercial purposes.
Listing my credentials is always the first thing I do since some of the hostility could be coming from confusion as to why a random person is flying a drone around their house.
Just like with someone that can’t take a hint, if you let this person know that you’re a professional, legally doing your job, and only photographing the home for sale and they are still being hostile towards you, walking away is a great option.
It’s unlikely that they’ll follow you onto private property, so the best thing you can do is find a place to finish your flight out of their line of sight and then immediately go about your job.
In this case, I usually fly my drone before shooting interiors, so I would finish my flight, land my drone, and immediately enter the home. If it’s just a drone job, you can land and then walk to your car and drive away.
Getting as much distance as possible between you and the person being hostile is always a good idea.
Land Your Drone And Remove Yourself From The Situation
If you attempt to walk away on to private property and they follow you, then this can really start to become a problem. At this point, it’s extremely unlikely that you’re able to safely operate your drone and continue your flight.
At this point, it’s best to just inform them that you’re landing your drone and you’ll stop flying right away. Land your drone and remove yourself from the hostile person as soon as possible.
Sometimes, this person might demand to see the photos, demand that you delete all the photos, or even threaten to call the police. Personally, I draw the line at showing them the photos. I ask them to either call the police or leave me alone.
If the police show up, you can inform them that you are a FAA Part 107 Licensed Drone Pilot and that you’re here photographing a house for sale. Whatever happens though, make sure to get some distance between you and the person.
If it comes to it, it might even be a good idea to call the police yourself. I’ve never done this personally, but if a neighbor is being extremely hostile and you are worried about your safety, you might need to make that call.
In my experience, 9 times out of 10 it’s just going to be a curious person that happens to be walking by. They’ll have a few questions, want to watch the drone for a bit, and then they’ll go on their way. Heck, usually I complete my flights uninterrupted.
The most extreme example that I have personally is when a homeowner thought I was actually a private investigator hired by his ex-wife to spy on him. In this case there was obviously no convincing him otherwise.
I landed my drone, picked it up, got into my car and drove a few blocks away. I pulled over and called the realtor I was working with and informed them of the situation. They agreed to meet me at the house and handle the neighbor as I finished the job.
I only share this experience to highlight that sometimes you’ll just have it call it and inform the realtor that you didn’t have a choice.
If the realtor wants you to deal with that alone and finish the job anyway, then that doesn’t really sound like a client I want to keep working with.
Situations like this have only happened 2 times in my nearly 5 years of operating a drone for real estate photography. So in truth, you don’t have much to worry about.
If you have your FAA Part 107, you’re flying safely and within the local limitations, and you have your license with you, you can rest assured that you are well within all your legal rights. People are mostly just really interested in drones.
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