Ask LH: Can I Stop My Neighbour From Flying His Drone Over My House?

Dear Lifehacker, our neighbour has a drone equipped with a camera. We have not given him permission to film our residential property and have previously told him we feel it’s an invasion of our privacy. Today at approximately 3pm, he was within one metre of our rear deck (not visible from street). In addition to possibly filming us, the drone was quite noisy. Is this noise pollution? Is it trespassing? An invasion of privacy? Please help! Drone Hater

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Dear DH,

As always, please note that we’re not lawyers, nor experts in Australian property law. With that said, it does sound like your neighbour could be breaking a few laws here. Let’s take a look at each of your charges in turn.

First off, your neighbour definitely shouldn’t be filming you in your backyard. Under Australia’s privacy laws, you are prohibited from recording video in a location that a reasonable person would expect to be afforded privacy. In other words, while public streets are fair game, a private property should be considered off-limits. These rules don’t explicitly include drones but if you are being filmed in your backyard without permission, you still have cause to notify police.

As we recently explained in another article, a landowner owns the air directly above their property in addition to the actual ground. Private aircraft, including drones, are considered to be trespassing when traversing the land near to the surface. In other words, if the drone passes his boundary and floats into yours, he is technically trespassing.

So what about noise pollution? In Australia, domestic noise limitations help to regulate how much residential noise is acceptable at certain times of the day. The volume level doesn’t even need to be potentially harmful to humans: if it interferes unreasonably with the “comfort or repose” of nearby persons, it may be considered a noise violation.

The exact rules on what constitutes “too loud” vary between townships and are set by the local council. Your best bet is to give them a call to find out what the accepted decibel range is for your area. Residents who exceed this noise limitation can be fined — especially if they re-offend after receiving a written warning. If the neighbour’s drone is exceptionally noisy, a complaint to the council could put an end to his flybys.

In addition to all this, there are numerous rules relating to civil/hobby drone use that he is probably breaking. For example, you are supposed to stay at least 30 metres away from people with your drone and must keep your drone within sight while you’re operating it. If you violate these rules, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) can impose infringement notices of up to $8500 per offence.


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