Unbanning Clotheslines

Help Sightline map communities that restrict solar drying.
This post is part of the research project: Making Sustainability Legal
flickr, Andrea_R

flickr, Andrea_R

Editor’s Note: We’ve followed up on this post here and here, documenting how many bans are actually void.

Elizabeth Morris and her family bought their house in the High Point neighborhood for a reason. “High Point is the City of Seattle’s premier ‘Green Community,’ having been touted internationally as such, as well as [for] mixing Seattle Housing Authority [SHA] rental properties and private home ownership,” she explained. It’s a compact, walkable, mixed-income, energy-efficient, green-built neighborhood peppered with bicycle commuters and rain barrels. So Morris was shocked to find that at High Point, clotheslines are banned.

“Homeowners have even been warned that it is illegal,” Morris said. “Not only are owners not allowed to save energy by hanging out laundry but those who rent from SHA (read: low income) aren’t allowed to save on their energy bills either.”

Like over 60 million other Americans and Canadians, Morris lives in a neighborhood governed by a homeowners association (HOA). These quasi-private governments, along with some apartment blocks and condominiums, are largely free to set rules as they see fit. Penalties for violations range from fines to forced expulsion. Imagine being banished by your neighbors for drying your clothes!

Clothesline bans are wrong headed, because line drying’s advantages are numerous. For one, anyone who hang dries will tell you that clothes last much longer: all that lint in your dryer filter has to come from somewhere! Benefits go beyond that, however: according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, households in the Northwest states use 4.3 percent of their annual electricity consumption to dry laundry. To put that into perspective, even our refrigerators only gobble up 3.5 percent. As the New York Times highlighted in an article last year, the typical US household could prevent 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year simply by turning off its dryer and hanging out the wash. Oh, and clotheslines never burn down your house; in the US alone, dryers cause more than 12,000 residential fires annually.

Not everyone has the time to put all their laundry on the line every wash day, but for many northwesterners, including Morris, overbearing homeowner rules deny them the choice. Examples abound.  The Willow Brook Home Owners Association (HOA) in Bonney Lake, Washington, lumps clotheslines with such outdoor undesirables as “litter, trash, junk… broken or damaged furniture… [and] trash barrels.” In the neighborhood of Awbrey Butte in Bend, Oregon, a clothesline-toting mother and nurse garnered national attention a few years ago, including a spot on the Colbert Report, for standing up to her homeowners association when it fined her nearly $1,000 for sun-drying her laundry without approval. Bans do not have to be explicit to be a significant barrier, either: the neighborhood of Forest Heights in Portland, Oregon, allows clotheslines, but only if they are “completely screened” and “are not visible from any street or adjoining property.”

Sightline found these cases in just a few days of looking. We suspect that many homeowner association, condo, and rental rules across Cascadia carry the same hidden impediment to solar laundry. We need your help to document the scale of the problem. We have set up a Google Map to plot out the locations of these pernicious regulations. If you or someone you know lives where clotheslines are forbidden, please help us! Email editor (at) sightline (dot) org with the location, name, and text of the offending rule. See the map for examples.

View Cascadia Clothesline Bans in a larger map. (12/6/2011 UPDATE. We switched to a different mapping tool, so this map looks slightly different and this link has changed.)

Fortunately, there’s good news in laundry-land. First, air drying systems have come a long way in sophistication and design elegance: take a look at this array of options. Second, some states have blasted through outdoor-drying barriers by passing laws that prohibit the banning of clotheslines. That’s right, they’ve banned the bans and enacted a right to dry. Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Utah and Vermont have legalized laundry lines while Connecticut, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia have all considered or passed watered down versions. Not to be left out, in 2008, Ontario became the first Canadian province to pass so-called Right to Dry legislation (though it exempted condos and apartments). Here in Cascadia, the Oregon legislature has considered, but failed to pass, House Bill 3059, which would amend the rules that govern what can be legally included in property agreements. Another, more circuitous, way to unban air drying is to re-classify clotheslines as solar energy collectors. This redefinition would ensure that existing “solar rights” laws (in effect in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, but not British Columbia) extend to solar dryers, and not just to solar panels. However it’s done, the key to addressing the issue is to ensure compliance from existing homeowner associations and not just future ones.

In an age of climate change, high energy prices, a down economy, and tight budgets, leaders have few clearer opportunities to help citizens save money while trimming emissions than to legalize clotheslines. And what better place to start than Elizabeth Morris’ neighborhood—Seattle’s model, green, low-income housing place—High Point?

Read more on clotheslines:

Jake Kennon is a Sightline research intern.

Sightline’s Making Sustainability Legal project identifies specific regulatory barriers to affordable, green solutions. If you’ve come across such an obstacle, please let us know by writing Eric (at) Sightline (dot) org.

We are a community-supported resource and we can’t do this work without you!

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Comments

  1. Alan Durning says:

    The West Seattle Blog, bless its community heart!, solicited comment from the Seattle Housing Authority about the High Point clothesline ban. Read it here:

    http://westseattleblog.com/2011/07/clotheslines-banned-at-high-point-but-maybe-not-for-long.

    Best line: “Some of the High Point rental families are quite large – this could result in lots of laundry to be hung.”

  2. Allen says:

    Here in NH clotheslines are not explicitly legal, but the banning of them is implicitly impossible seeing as 98% of the states occupants are what would commonly be referred to as “white trash” of the type who would hang their clothes out either A) out of necessity or B) out of a desire not to look different than their neighbors (who also hang their clothes). Thus a banning of clotheslines would therefore vacate a housing community and force the lifting of the ban. I’m glad I live in a state where freedom is preserved by people for the people and basic civil liberties like drying our clothes in the way of our ancestors are preserved. Live Free or Die!!!

  3. Fair-Weather Dryer says:

    Good Heavens, this is CLEAN laundry we’re talking about, right?

    And in this day and age if people, like Madonna, can get away with wearing their bras in full public view then what’s wrong with clotheslines??

  4. Mary says:

    I have found a solution to getting around my HOA’s clothesline ban. They are portable clothes drying racks. I can fit one load of laundry on each rack and can simply put them on my deck for the day. This way I get the benefit of air drying until the HOA comes around to it’s senses.

  5. Connie Moffit says:

    For many many years now, I have been air-drying my clothes inside small apartments, using a drying rack. My mother grew up in the Depression and taught me to do this, not so much to save energy, as to prevent shrinkage and keep the clothes better longer (and, indeed, it works -I have clothes now, in my fifties, that I’ve had since high school!). Inside drying also has the benefits of avoiding fading caused by the sun, of being safer (not open to theft), and of being always available, in good old rainy Seattle.

  6. Maureen says:

    Another easy option in the meantime: screw a plant hanger screw into a ceiling stud near each corner of a bedroom wall, maybe 18” away from the wall. Buy a length of lightweight chain (heavy enough to support whatever a load or two of damp laundry weighs) from a hardware store equal to the length between the two hooks, plus a third or half again. String the chain up so that is has a slight bow. Put your damp laundry onto hangers, and hang in the chain links. Voila – works great for everything except sheets. I’ve been hang drying my laundry this way for years.

  7. wright gregson says:

    re: drying clothing outdoors—
    i am of an age that when i was a kid, no one had clothes dryers==they hadnt been invented for home use!!!
    so, everyone dried clothes outdoors, summer and winter.
    but, many of our neighbors had a “clothes yard”–a three=sided latice work pergola structure. within the clothes yard, the clothes could be dried without being visible to the neighbors.
    so, why not use the “back to the future” idea to mollify those who oppose open air drying????

  8. Alan Durning says:

    Over on Grist, on the same post, a reader noted that many RV parks across the United States ban clotheslines. Anyone heard of that before?

  9. Eli Spevak says:

    Kudos to Portland’s Housing Authority for allowing clothes drying at their HOPE VI project in New Columbia. That said, I’ve worked out there for over a year building a small community of homes and have not yet seen clothes drying at a home there. As one of the folks who worked hard to try and pass Right to Dry legislation in Oregon, I can vouch that it ain’t easy. Big Thanks to Ben Cannon, Christy Splitt, and many others for trying to stop the cut-and-paste condo document stampede that routinely prohibits solar drying in HOAs and Planned Communities

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks for your leadership, Eli. Do you know of other examples in Oregon where clotheslines are banned? We’re preparing for a map update soon and need more Oregon examples.

      • Jessica says:

        After seeing your post, I read my new apartment lease (in Hillsboro, OR) carefully and found I can’t hang clothes or swim suits where people outside the apartment can see them. So I guess it’s ok to dry on my balcony if I put up a privacy screen. I’ll send you the complex name offline, although I suspect it’s a clause common to other complexes.

  10. Paul Durazo says:

    I grew up with a neighborhood in La Mirada, Ca. where clotheslines were standard equipment. In fact the laundry room only had hookups for a washer. Here in Westminster, Ca. the home my wife and I bought in 1988 still had its clothesline which I use daily even though I have a 23 year old dryer rarely used on those rainy days. I have 2 rental properties 1 in a gated community in Las Vegas, Nv. when suggested to the HOA they groweled at the use of clotheslines. Also Lake Forest my other rental I got grief. I showed those 8balls in Las Vegas where electricity comes at the expense of Lake Mead being 200′ low. I pointed out to the HOA and politions that a soaking wet pair of blue jeans dries in 6 minutes in the 110F and that laundry would not be outside very long. Times are tough for even me out of work since 8/2007 I’m glad I kept old fashion values.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks for your note, Paul. Can you give a zip code and name of the gated community in Las Vegas, NV, so we can add it to the map? Also, what’s the zip code of the Lake Forest rental, so we add that to the map as well?

      What do the HOA rules say, exactly? We’d like to document the specifics!

      • Paul Durazo says:

        Alan the Las Vegas zip is 89141 and the Lake Forest zip is 92630 if this helps both area officials are difficult to deal with.

  11. Desert Dryer says:

    I lived in Las Vegas for awhile last winter. They have impressively strong winds surging through! Combine that with the desert sun, and if ever there were a perfect place for clothesline drying, it would be Vegas. Just be sure to fasten down the clothes really well!!

  12. Alan Durning says:

    We’ve just updated the map with the first batch of reader-submitted clothesline bans. They’re all over the place! Check ‘em out!

    And keep sending in more, please!

  13. Robert H Haverlock says:

    I believe Kirkland Washington also bannes hanging clothes?

    • Alan Durning says:

      We haven’t heard that. Kirklanders, is that true?

  14. Jake Kennon says:

    The map has been updated again! There is a huge addition in North Carolina around Chapel Hill thanks to a project by UNC’s Institute for the Environment (http://www.ie.unc.edu/content/education/courses/capstone.cfm).

    Zoom in to see them all!

  15. Bill Bradburd says:

    there is contradiction in the goal here if density is such that outdoor drying is impossible – say an apartment building or even with Seattle’s lowrise zoning where outdoor space is not available.

    so the best place for outdoor drying rests largely with the dreaded sprawl house.

  16. Joe Woodward says:

    I’ve dried all my laundry for 15 or 20 years, and all indoors, by using over-the-door “bars” (that extend out over 1 foot) to hang up shirts, pants, sheets, towels on, from clothes hangers and pinch hangers and a couple of collapsable drying racks for socks, underwear and extra shirts on the corners. It’s easy, and all but thick jeans dry within a day, if not 8 to 12 hours, even in damp Vancouver.

  17. Bunneh says:

    The HOA here bans drying even on your own porch. Florida, 33511.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Bunneh,

      Whoa! Can you provide an address, the name of the HOA, and the relevant text from the rules?

  18. Bunneh says:

    I should have been clearer, this is a condominium community where I wish to dry my clothing on my own screened porch.

    I believe the relevent bylaw is this one:

    Lanais and Walkways:
    2)Laundry, rugs, towels, bathing suits, mops or other similar articles shall not be hung or spread on the common elements of the condominium property where it will be visible from outside the condominium.

    Obviously, if I roll my portable clothes dryer onto my lanai it will be visible.
    Truthfully, this is the first time I’ve actually read it, I was told verbally very clearly that drying laundry on the lanai was prohibited.

    Park Lake at Parsons Condominium Association, Inc.

    803 Lake Haven Square, Brandon Florida 33511

    I believe, but could be mistaken, that this goes against FL Statute 163.04. The statute isn’t clear on whether it covers condos or just subdivision HOA’s.

    Statute text is here.

    • Alan Durning says:

      The statute sure seems to ban the kind of condo rule that you’re living under! Thanks for the info. It’s going on the map!

  19. Bunneh says:

    I believe it does also Alan, since I’m not using the patio railings at all.

    And, you’re welcome :)

  20. Callie Jordan says:

    A Treehugger news article from last year:

    You thought your subdivision was tough, with its restrictions on “unsightly” activities like hanging laundry out to dry. In Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, city officials have taken clothesline bans to a whole new level, threatening anyone who dares to dry outside with eviction.

    Clothesline Crackdown Has with links to LOTS of other articles.

  21. Jocelyn Campbell says:

    I live in a condo where air drying anything on the patio is against the rules. (Jon Howland got us on the map today.)
    A few years back, Washington State deemed it illegal for HOA’s to ban those TV disk/mini-satellites. If those darn things are legally protected, I would think that providing similar codes for air or line drying clothes would be a no-brainer!

  22. Bill Waring says:

    I was going to add my building in Honolulu, but I see someone else already identified it. I have been threatened with fines by security for trying to air dry laundry on my lanai and the building management will not budge on the HOA rules. We’ll have to try to change it through the BOD.

  23. Jeanne says:

    As an ardent outdoors clothes dryer in WA State, I became a HOA lawbreaker in Tucson (Lazy Creek 2, 85716). Since we have a very private yard with a high fence, I have remained “fine free”. We have a retractable line that is not noticeable when it is put away. Recently my husband called the Property Manager to ask about the possibility of installing solar panels. The PM reluctantly told him that the City of Tucson has a regulation that states that HOAs cannot ban anything that has to do with using solar energy. I now feel free to hang clothes with abandon. Clothes that dry almost instantly in the desert. I am looking forward to a challenge from the HOA so that I can explain the merits of hanging clothes outside.

    • Jon Howland says:

      Hi, Jeanne,

      Thanks for your comment and for line drying!

      Is there an address or intersection I can use to put Lazy Creek 2 on our Google map?

      And do you know the text of the HOA ban?

      Thanks,
      Jon

  24. Ray Easby says:

    Hello Jeanne,
    In Australia we have councils and government departments who require a clothesline to be installed in every new housing or unit development before completion certificates are issued and approval to move in.Why should people be made to pay for electric clothesdryers when solar drying is available. As you can see from my web page i manufacture the largest range of fold down clotheslinesin the world, i have been involved with clotheslines since 1976,during that time i have made all my own tooling, jigs and dies to manufacture rotary,retractable,folding frame,foldaline rotaries,portable and custom built clotheslines. My commitment to my industry is to supply a product that offers exceplional value and will provide the household with years of operational free clothes drying.Wake up America solar power is free.
    Cheers Ray Easby No. 1 in the world for solar drying

  25. Les Stuff says:

    I’m not sure if it’s illegal in Seattle or not, but I’m doing it anyway. Thomas Jefferson said it is our duty to disobey unjust laws; this is just one in many that is completely absurd and encroaching upon freedom. This is civil disobedience for beginners, if the fuzz come to my house for a clothesline infraction they may be surprised to find that I will not cooperate under any circumstances. I was even thinking about making “Legalize Solar” T’s w/ a pic of a clothesline.

    We are “legally” killing our very own Salish Sea (Puget Sound) w/ poisonous runoff from residential unnecessaries such as fertilizers and pesticides, bleach and cleaners, etc. in addition to permitted industrial dumping like wastewater treatment (no it isn’t clean what most of them dump into “The Sound”), caustic cement biproducts, supposed biomass (plywood and garbage) burners and on and on, but it is illegal to air dry laundry (?); these barriers between conservation sanity and consumption perpetuant beaurocracy must be leveled!
    So very many institutions to level and so little precious time to do it; no more settling for mediocrity! It is time to resist! Cheers!

  26. Les Stuff says:

    I live in Seattle but do not live in a “private” community or low income housing etc. So am I able to hang my clothes out legally (seems I am)? Was lookin’ forward to fighting this one on the front lines! I still may make T’s to get the word out for those who’re oppressed under this senseless grid enslavement! Cheers Conservationists!

    • Alan Durning says:

      Unless you’re in a home-owner association, apartment or condo with rules explicitly against clotheslines, your right to dry is uncontested, Les!

  27. Les Stuff says:

    Thanks, I will fight as a privilaged outsider then (hehe) {[;}>!!! Cheers “Skivey Flaunters”!

  28. bridgette says:

    I am amazed that this coversation is even necessary! Have the words Climate Change and Global warming or GFC and low income completely missed the administrators of whole states in The US?
    In Australia we have an icon that represents the Australian Way of Life…it’s called the Hills Hoist..a solar powered clothes drying intallation, AKA the backyard clothes-line! Dryers are for rainy days!
    Good luck with the campaign. Best wishes from Sunny Australia

  29. ginger mcknight says:

    I don’t mind clothes lines but people should have consideration for their neighbors. My next door neighbor lives to wash and hang clothes. She even hangs clothes on her portable line on Sundays and holidays. So when I am in my front yard full of gorgeous flowers and flowering bushes you see her clothes in the background. It makes me so angry. They have the money to create an area where they can hang clothes but not have them seen. I feel that I live in the projects next to washer woman.

    • Maya says:

      I’m sorry, but being an Australian, this is one of the silliest things I’ve read, that someone could get angry about their neighbour hanging washing and being able to see it. My washing can be seen from the street, (although as some new fruit trees grow it will become less visible). Here many people’s washing can be seen. It makes the neighbourhood look friendlier and more welcome. After all, a neighbourhood without washing hanging outside looks like an iffy and undesirable place to live. If it isn’t safe to hang out washing it’s not a good neighbourhood. It’s normal for houses here to have clotheslines and be used. In fact, it’s looked down on to use a clothes drier.

  30. Karen says:

    I moved into a three on a lot in Redondo Beach, CA 90278. The sun shines all the time and I feel privileged to be able to hang my clothes on a line. I put my line out on a large balcony were a small portion of the clothes can be seen. When the clothes are dry I remove the clothes and line. I only put out nice clothes that I do not want damaged with repetive drying and it is a go green method. This is done in the early AM (800 am or so). I grew up with a family that did their laundry this method. I have been harrassed with statements “that I’m not following HOA rules and that I’m white trash. That they will see me court.” I’m concerned it does not state in my HOA rules that I cannot do this but they are now now stating it is 2/3 and that their rules out rule my desire! I have read your article and it sounds like CA is a go green state and the state rules out rule HOA rules. Im lost do I need to contact a lawyer to allow me to hang my clothes to dry and if so who knows the laws in Redondo Beach, CA. I would really appreciate to speak to someone who will help me to gain my right to allow my clothes to dry in the sun on my balcony in CA. e-mail: [email protected] #310 971 5642.

  31. Marion Naylor says:

    I live in Greenwood Indiana in a mobile home park (Center Grove Estates) they have written in the rules No Clothes Lines :(

    • Maya says:

      Weird, and I feel sorry for you. Here in Australia the caravan parks (which I imagine is what you call a mobile home park) supply the (permanent) clotheslines outside of the site laundromat.
      What a strange culture which has this opinion of clotheslines. (Shakes head in disbelief!) If I didn’t know otherwise I would this this was an April fool’s joke.

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