Toms River, the New Jersey township, which has already cracked down on aggressive real estate agents on the ground, is now looking to curtail their activities in the air: by restricting the use of drones.
A new ordinance introduced by the Township Council would ban drones in any airspace below 400 feet in Toms River. Violators would faces fines of up to $2,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
Councilman George E. Wittmann Jr. said the council decided to control drones after receiving complaints from residents, particularly in the North Dover area.
“We’ve had complaints about them flying over people’s homes,” Wittmann said. Residents of the Tallymawr community in Toms River recently complained about a real estate agent using a drone in their area.
Some residents of North Dover have spotted unmanned aircraft that they say are being used by real estate agents attempting to obtain information about homes in the area. Real estate agents throughout the country are using drone photography and videography to help market their listings.
The area of North Dover where residents have lodged complaints is in a part of the township where door-to-door real estate soliciting was banned last year. The council voted to prohibit real estate soliciting for five years in the area after repeated complaints by homeowners who claimed aggressive real estate agents were ruining their quality of life.
Some real estate agents claimed they had been harassed by residents while canvassing in Toms River neighborhoods.
The explosive growth of the Orthodox Jewish community in nearby Lakewood has led real estate buyers to seek properties in those areas for young Jewish families eager to move into Ocean County.
Residents who live within the area who still want to allow real estate solicitation have to opt in by filing a statement with the clerk’s office.
Now the officials are targeting another tool of the real estate trade. A public hearing on the drones measure has been scheduled for April 25 in town hall.
There are exceptions: drones can be flown by law enforcement agencies and emergency services, at athletic events held at private and public schools or on township-owned property, and during daylight hours on private residential or commercial property, as long as the property owner consents to the use of unmanned aircraft over their land.
Any data collection by unmanned aircraft must be related only to the properties where owners provide consent for the drones to fly.
The ordinance also allows drones to be used for commercial, business, educational, scientific, research and environmental purposes, in accordance with FAA regulations.
Drones flying above properties cannot be used for “data collection,” unless the property owner has agreed to allow it, according to the ordinance.
The Toms River drone ordinance is similar to a measure adopted in 2015 by Long Beach Township. Many other towns throughout the country have sought to restrict drones as the number of unmanned aircraft registered with the Federal Aviation Administration continues to soar.
In January, the FAA reported that nearly 700,000 drones had been registered with the agency in the previous year.
According to a new report from Center of the Study of the Drone, a research institute at New York’s Bard College, rules governing unmanned aircraft have been established in 131 municipalities in 35 states. Most restrict private drone use.
The Toms River ordinance requires drone owners to register their unmanned aircraft each year at the Township Clerk’s Office. There will be a $70 annual registration fee.
New rules proposed for real estate soliciting permits
The council also moved Tuesday to tighten the permit process for real estate solicitors after members of the township’s Land-Use Committee received more complaints from residents, township Administrator Paul J. Shives said.
Real estate agents who want to go door-to-door seeking home sellers already must obtain a 30-day permit from the clerk’s office.
The new rules prohibit a real estate agent from canvassing the same street, neighborhood or geographic area until at least six months have passed since after the initial permit expires.
A residence can only be canvassed once during the 30-day permit period, unless the homeowner consents to more visits.
Permits must be applied for — and issued to — individuals, and no more than one employee of a company can be issued a permit for the same time period and neighborhood.
Real estate agents — none immediately replied to a press request for comment — who violate the law are subject to fines of up to $500 for each property canvassed.