Neighbors complain of drones flying over Winter Park back yards

Viewer shares video with Local 6

WINTER PARK, Fla. – It seems like drones are everywhere these days. You can read about them all over the Internet, see them in parks across the country and now, for some Winter Park neighbors, they're flying around back yards.

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The problem is, the residents are concerned because they tell Local 6 they don't know who is doing it.

One video a viewer sent Local 6 shows a drone flying just feet off the ground in one woman's backyard as she and a man look at it.

"It's like 'Terminator 2,'" she said.

"Right, it's coming after us," he replied.

Other neighbors we spoke to tell Local 6 that it's becoming a common sight.

"I got out of my car, and it's right there, right above the bird-of-paradise," said Jennifer Doran.

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Doran is referencing the first of three drones she's seen buzzing around her property.

"We probably, in the last month, have seen every couple days a different drone," said Doran. "Like, it was just looking right at me. They're recording children in bathing suits or they're recording the teenager across the street, who lays out in her front yard in her bikini. It's unsettling. Kids can't be kids without someone flying over and taking pictures or recording them and you don't know if they're using it for malicious purposes. You don't know if it's going to appear on the Internet, appear in some pictures somewhere. You just don't know and that's really disturbing."

She likened it to a video voyeur, taking pictures or video of people without their knowledge.

"The people who go around in the supermarkets or Walmart who are recording under skirts, they're all getting arrested," said Doran. "Because people are unknowingly being recorded. They're going out and shopping and they're unknowingly being invaded and recorded."

But right now, it's unclear what the law can actually do about it.

Timothy Ravich, an aviation attorney and assistant professor at the University of Central Florida's Department of Legal Studies, said the Federal Aviation Administration has guidelines, but as long as civilians are flying drones below 400 feet not for commercial purposes, they're in the clear.

However, there is a bill that's sitting on Gov. Rick Scott's desk right now that would make it illegal for people with drones to record or take pictures of private citizens or their properties without their express written consent in most circumstances. There are a few exceptions to that, including use by property appraisers.

The problem is, Ravich said, it may not be much help because it would not impose any criminal penalties.

"If you go over private property, that law, if it's passed, would actually allow you to sue the person who's flying the drone over your property," said Ravich. "But again, the issue is always going to be, what is your damages? This is not going to be a $100,000 lawsuit. At worst, you may be embarrassed because you were sunbathing and a drone came over you. It's not a big lawsuit."

Plus, you would still have to prove who's flying the drone. That's tough to do, since drones don't have to be registered like a car or a boat.

Doran said one of her neighbors figured out who was flying one of the drones by chance.

When Local 6 anchor Lisa Bell went to the drone owner's home, she met a man who identified himself as the pilot's roommate.

"You can see there's a constant stream of video when he's flying, but whether it's being recorded, I don't know," said the man.

His roommate, the drone's pilot, sent us this statement in email later.

"The drone is a hobby and I fly it for my own personal, recreational enjoyment. I am operating it in full accordance with the law," the email said.

As far as Doran's concerned, that's not much comfort, because there are still two drones out there with unknown pilots.

"It makes you think twice when you step outside," said Doran. "I look up now -- is anything buzzing? Is anything flying over?"

Ravich said flying the drone over private property could be considered trespassing.

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"Trespass as defined under Florida law is invasion of someone's personal property without their consent, so that's sort of an easy definition to more or less apply. If they weren't invited, it's a trespass," said Ravich.

He said although the drone isn't technically on your physical property, the general rule is that you own the air space you can reasonably enjoy, which is usually recognized as about 400 feet above your home.

Ravich said in any case, if you're uncomfortable or are feeling harassed by a drone, you should call law enforcement. Several of the agencies Local 6 reached out to agreed, requesting you call the non-emergency line to make a report.

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About the Author:

Tara Evans is an executive producer and has been with News 6 since January 2013. She currently spearheads News 6 at Nine and specializes in stories with messages of inspiration, hope and that make a difference for people -- with a few hard-hitting investigations thrown in from time to time.