Simmering debate over drone use in condos, as more move to ban the flying objects

Parc Palais in Hume Avenue has sent out a circular to residents, warning that drones may be confiscated.
Parc Palais in Hume Avenue has sent out a circular to residents, warning that drones may be confiscated.PHOTO: COURTESY OF PARC PALAIS

SINGAPORE - A debate is simmering over the use of drones in private condominiums as more developments have issued rules to ban the unmanned flying objects.

On Jan 8, Parc Palais in Hume Avenue became the latest to join the ranks of such drone-banning condos as it sent a circular to residents warning that the flying gadgets may be confiscated.

A random check by The Straits Times with nine other condominiums across the island showed that seven did not allow the flying of drones.

Only two of the seven spelled out the ban in their house rules, but the other five said they would stop any flying of drones in the estate.

Most say they are denying the flying gadgets free rein on their grounds amid concerns of privacy and safety.

Mr Jeremy Lim, strata residential manager for Parc Palais, said drones fitted with cameras may intrude on privacy.

He added that the condo was "following government policy"and would hand any confiscated drones to an authority such as the police.

He did not say whether any drones had caused a disturbance in the estate.

But a representative of a condo located in the eastern part of Singapore, who declined to be named, said it passed house rules to ban drones after one was found hovering at an 18th-floor unit with a camera pointing into a home last December.

Hume Park 1, another development in Hume Avenue, has no written rules on prohibiting the use of drones.

But condo manager Jason Lee said its policy is that if they are used for "taking photos of people's houses", the management would not allow it and report any incident to the police.

"If it's used for fun, it's okay," he said in Mandarin.

Condo management staff were also almost unanimous in not allowing drones to be used for property listings.

"No way," said Parc Palais' Mr Lim. "It is strictly out of the question."

Ms Christine Ang, condo manager for Clover By The Park in Bishan, agreed, pointing to privacy issues.

"What is the point of staying in a private condo if there is no privacy?"

But the bans could affect real estate agents who use drone photography or videos in their property listings, as well as the use of drones to inspect building facades.

The latter is an idea that has been mooted by the Building and Construction Authority and the Housing Board, and a call for proposals targeted at local firms has been launched by the agencies.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore does not prohibit the flying of drones in private estates, but rules stipulate that they should not be flown within 5km of an aerodrome - such as an airport or air base - or across security-sensitive "protected areas".

Real estate portal SRX Property, operated by StreetSine Technology Group, launched a feature called X-Drone last September. It showcases homes using aerial photos and videos.

In a Straits Times report last September, StreetSine chief technology officer Jeremy Lee was quoted as saying that firms are required to license their drone pilots and to file flight plans.

Mr Chris Koh, director of real estate agency Chris International, said his firm is considering the use of drones as it has "a lot of pros". For example, some buyers request videos of the unit's surroundings, which drones can provide.

"But the only concern is the authorities, as there are privacy issues," he added.

"The technology can definitely help the property market - but no matter what, you need to find out if consent (to fly drones) is required."