Whether you live in NYC or you’ve visited from outside the city, chances are you’ve noticed drones in the sky. This isn’t unique to New York; drones have become increasingly popular all over the world because they serve a variety of purposes. They’re reliable photographers, they can help with package delivery, and they can provide a snapshot of what’s going on in a place that might be difficult or even dangerous to reach. 

For our purposes as New York City property management professionals, one of the most promising applications of drones is for building inspections. Large cities like New York City can especially benefit from the use of drones when it comes to inspecting buildings. Think about the requirements of Local Law 11: in addition to visual inspections of building façades, the law also requires a close-up inspection from scaffolding at least every 60 feet along the length of each exterior wall that fronts a public right of way. For most buildings, this will include streets, sidewalks, easements, plazas, and any other public place that needs to be deemed safe. 

While drones have emerged as a promising tool for providing detailed visual assessments of facades, thereby enhancing the efficiency and safety of inspections, they do not replace the requirement for physical inspections. Furthermore, operating drones in NYC for such purposes requires careful navigation of both federal and local regulations, including FAA guidelines and city-specific flight restrictions.

Let’s take a look at why drones make sense for building inspections, despite regulatory challenges, and how we believe they can be impactful to the way we manage properties in NYC.

Why Use Drones for Building Inspections?

Building inspections are critical for ensuring the safety and structural integrity of buildings. They’re also legally required, so there’s no getting around them unless you’re willing to face high fees and penalties. 

While you need to incorporate routine inspections into your property management plan, we know that those traditional inspections can be time-consuming, expensive, and even potentially dangerous for inspectors. 

Drones offer a safer, more efficient, and cost-effective solution for building inspections. 

Here are some of the benefits that we believe make the use of drones for building inspections in NYC so necessary: 

  • Safety Considerations. Inspecting buildings in New York City can be dangerous, particularly when inspectors are approaching some of the taller buildings around the city or those with difficult-to-reach areas. With drones, inspectors can safely access and inspect these areas without putting themselves at risk.
  • Efficiency. Drones can cover a lot of ground quickly, enabling inspectors to work through buildings faster and more thoroughly than traditional methods. This can be especially beneficial for larger buildings, where traditional inspections can take days or even weeks to complete an inspection. There’s more accuracy and a faster turnaround time when drones are doing the labor.
  • Cost Considerations. All building owners are thinking about costs, and inspections aren’t cheap. Traditional building inspections can be expensive, particularly for tall buildings or those with complex designs. If you own multiple buildings, your costs will continue to increase. Drones offer a more cost-effective solution, as they require fewer resources and can be operated by a smaller team of inspectors. This will save owners money and it won’t take any business away from building inspectors, because it simply means they’ll be able to increase their volume of work with the time that’s saved. At Harlem Property Management, we manage a hi-rise building in Astoria, where a Local Law 11 inspection would normally cost $80,000. Using a drone, we got that price down to hundreds of dollars. 
  • More Accurate Data is Available. Drones are equipped with high-resolution cameras, which means they can capture detailed images and videos of buildings that can be analyzed later. This data can provide inspectors with a more accurate and comprehensive view of a building’s condition. It makes your inspections more reliable. 

These are some of the best reasons for us to become more comfortable with the idea of drones completing building inspections in New York City.

Challenges and Limitations of Drone Inspections

While the benefits of using drones for building inspections are clear, there are also some challenges and limitations to consider, and we don’t want to shy away from those. Here are some of the challenges that might require some creative problem solving: 

  • Weather Conditions are Unpredictable. Drones can be affected by weather conditions, and that’s something to consider when we’re talking about sending them out to inspect buildings. If there are strong winds or heavy rain or snow, we might find that the ability of these drones to fly and capture accurate data is limited. 
  • Regulation is Required. Drone use is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and there are strict rules and regulations that must be followed when it comes to how and when drones are used. This can make it difficult for inspectors to use drones in certain areas or under certain circumstances. Government coordination is required, and that’s not always fast and easy.
  • Necessary Equipment and Training. Inspectors must have the proper equipment and training to operate drones safely and effectively. This can be costly and time-consuming, and will require a learning curve.

These are the challenges that will need to be balanced against the benefits. 

Drones offer a promising solution for building inspections in New York City. They provide a safer, more efficient, and cost-effective way to inspect buildings and gather accurate data. While there are some challenges and limitations to consider, the benefits of using drones for building inspections are significant. As technology continues to advance and regulations become more flexible, it’s likely that drone usage in building inspections will become even more prevalent in the future.

We’d love to tell you more about how we think drones can help. Please watch the video that’s linked with this blog – you’ll see an example of how drones can conduct building inspections. If you’d like to talk more about this topic or if you have any questions at all about NYC property management, please contact us at Harlem Property Management. 

Manage PropertiesBased in Upper Manhattan, Harlem Property Management is the authority on co-op and condo building management and is a member of the Real Estate Board of New York. We specialize in managing condos, co-ops, and multifamily buildings.