FishHawk neighbors, HOA battle over drone use

A neighborhood is angry at a man who flies drones, but he says he's doing nothing wrong.

Drones are becoming more popular as a hobby, but many say regulations aren't keeping up with the technology. 

Right now, there's a battle brewing in FishHawk Ranch: the right to fly drones versus neighbors rights to privacy.

When it comes to enforcement, there are a lot of gray areas about what can be done to keep the peace.

Frank Bragg has a fleet of a half dozen drones, just for fun. 

“The views are fantastic,” says Bragg.

But the HOA president told Bragg that's the problem. He was flying the drone over the community pool.

Facebook posts raise privacy concerns calling him out for “hovering over the kids area with half-naked children.”

When asked if his intent is to spy on children, Bragg replies, “No, not even close.”

Bragg says he'd been practicing, while his daughter played in the pool. He's a resident of the neighborhood, so he has a right to be there, and drones aren't restricted by the current HOA rules.

The community president told Bragg to stop flying the drone and called the sheriff's office.

Deputies tell 10News they couldn't take any action, because Bragg left before they arrived.

The HOA has now pulled his amenities privileges because of his “aggressive tone” when confronted.

“Because I'm doing something they don't want me to do, their bylaws are very vague, if I tell them no, that's the excuse they can use against me to restrict my privileges,” says Bragg.

The FAA tells 10News that it focuses more on safety measures than on privacy issues.

Safety Guidelines

Individuals flying for hobby or recreation are strongly encouraged by the FAA to follow safety guidelines, which include:

  • Fly at or below 400 feet and stay away from surrounding obstacles
  • Keep your UAS within sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Understand airspace restrictions and requirements

“What’s considered a crowd?" Bragg asks. "Once again, we have an ambivalent statement.  A group is three people?  Five people?  Fifty people?” 

Even the FAA guidelines have no teeth for enforcement.

Several neighbors reached out to 10News, saying the violation of their privacy with his drones goes way beyond the community pool.

“He'll follow them to the bus stop like with the drone.  He'll fly over our pool, so I can't tan out there.  We can't swim.  He'll use it over the trampoline where my little sister and her best friends do their cheerleading stunts,” 17-year-old Savannah Bolender tells 10News with her mom’s permission.

Neighbors say the drone actually crosses onto their properties. 

“He’ll put it in neighbors’ yards, looking at their garage, not at roof level, but looking into their garage at the driveway level,” says Bolender.

Both sides say they'll be at the next HOA board meeting calling for change.

“We need to change those rules, change the amount of power the ( FishHawk Community Development District II) and HOA has,” says Bragg.

“Why is making sure the lawn is mowed in the median, more important than making sure we as citizens feel protected and securet  That’s  the whole point of living in a nice community,” says Bolender.

There is a Florida law, the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, that prohibits using drones for surveillance where a drone can gather information about a person's identity, habits, conduct, movements or whereabouts and cannot be used on a neighbor's private property when there's an expectation of privacy.

Privacy is not typically protected if your activity can be seen by others at ground level.

Neighbors can strengthen HOA rules.  The attorney for the FishHawk Community Development District II, Biff Craine, tells 10 News that they’ll look at those rules at the June 20 board meeting at 6:30 p.m.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says neighbors can call deputies with issues, and they can determine if the drone use crosses the line criminally or if a restraining order is needed. Under the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, property owners can also sue for violations.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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