Editor’s Note 6/30/16: Warm weather is here, which means that it’s time to set up your clothesline! But watch out, this simple, green practice might be banned in your backyard. We’re bringing back this popular article just in time for summer. (Have you had trouble with your clothesline? Share your story in the comments below.)
As we and others have said, hundreds of thousands of people across Cascadia—and tens of millions across the United States—live where homeowners associations (HOAs) (or apartment or condo rules) ban clotheslines. Clotheslines are a quintessentially sustainable tool that saves money, prolongs the lifespan of laundry, and eliminates pollution. A “right-to-dry” movement has sprung up and won laws in six states––Florida, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, and Vermont—to render these bans void and unenforceable. In another 13 states, I have discovered to my surprise and delight, solar access laws already on the books appear to protect solar drying.
Yet in all of these 19 states, illegal bans persist in community rulebooks, such as HOA Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), and a number that likely runs into the millions of residents do not know they already have a right to dry. Solar access laws, many of them from the 1970s, and obscure amendments to state property law hardly fall in the category of common knowledge. When Sightline sent out an email alert asking people to let us know about bans where they live, over a third of responses came from inside these 19 states.
In the map below, I have marked clothesline bans that readers notified us about (keep telling us about more by writing to [email protected]!) or that I have found in other ways. The explicit right-to-dry states are those with blue pushpins marking clothesline bans. Of the 220 bans marked on the map as of today, 26 are in states that specifically mention clothesline bans as void. The solar-access-law states are those with yellow pushpins marking bans. Some 103 bans are in these states. The two green pins show bans in Utah, where individual land-use authorities may protect the right to dry. While laws in Delaware and New Jersey allow for roof-mounted solar systems and Washington law overrides bans on solar panels, these states and 27 others have no legal protections for solar energy generally or clotheslines specifically. In these states, marked in red, the right to dry is not yet protected.
Consider one example: The Forest Heights neighborhood, Oregon’s largest ever new-home community, is located in Portland’s posh West Hills. The community boasts over 1,600 single family homes, covering 600 acres.
A pillar of the Forest Heights marketing campaign is environmental stewardship: the HOA website boasts that the community has set aside more than a third of its acreage as common green space, complete with seven walking trails and a private pond. The website promotes a “Go Green” campaign and offers residents an “EcoShuttle” service.
At the same time, and in direct contradiction to the community’s green claims, the Forest Heights CC&Rs limit placement of clotheslines to “service yards” that are “completely screened so that the elements screened are not visible at any time from the street or any adjoining property.” This amounts to a de facto ban: The average lot is under a quarter acre, and nearly all homes have two stories, so completely concealing a clothesline is virtually impossible. The ban is also illegal, rendered toothless by a 1979 Oregon Law that says any restrictions on “solar radiation as a source for heating, cooling or electrical energy” are “void and unenforceable.”
Clotheslines appear to fit under the umbrella of Oregon’s, and other states’, solar rights because systems for hang-drying rely on the sun’s radiation to evaporate water in wet laundry. Clotheslines rely on solar energy, so their use is protected where laws provide blanket allowances for use of solar.
In addition to Oregon, the solar access laws in Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin all delineate a homeowner’s right to install a “solar energy system,” “solar energy device,” “solar collector,” “system for obtaining solar energy” or “solar energy collection device.” The legal terminology varies, but the letter and spirit of these laws has one overarching message: homeowners may utilize the power of the sun.
Nationwide in the United States, more than a quarter million homeowner associations govern upwards of 60 million people. Alexander Lee, a champion of the right-to-dry movement, estimates that “more than half of them (HOAs) restrict or ban the clothesline.” If he is right, tens of millions of Americans are subject to either full or partial clothesline bans. Some 19 states, including populous ones such as California, Florida, and Texas, have right-to-dry laws. These facts combined suggest that millions of Americans live under illegal clothesline bans.
So spread the word! If you live in any of the states listed below and HOA rules have hampered your drying, take heart. The law was on your side all along. When Spring arrives, grab your clothespins and laundry basket, string up a line and hang out the wash. If anyone hassles you, point to the relevant statute. The table below specifies chapter and verse for each right-to-dry state.
The worst that could happen is that you might become part of a test case—a law suit that cements the right to dry in your state.
|Florida||Florida Statute 163.04|
|Colorado||Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act, Section 38-33.3-106.7|
|Hawaii||Senate Bill 1338|
|Maine||Maine Revised Statute Title 33, Chapter 28-A|
|Maryland||Senate Bill 224|
|Vermont||Vermont Statutes, Title 27, Chapter 5|
|Oregon||Chapter 105, Section 105.880|
|Arizona||Arizona Statutes, Article 3, Chapter 4, Section 33-439|
|California||California Civil Code Section 707-714.5|
|Illinois||Homeowners’ Energy Policy Statement Act|
|Indiana||Indiana Code 32-23-4|
|Louisiana||House Bill 751|
|Massachusetts||Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 184, Section 23C|
|Nevada||Nevada Revises Statutes, Chapter 111, Section 239|
|New Mexico||New Mexico Solar Rights Act|
|North Carolina||Chapter 22B, Article 3|
|Texas||House Bill 362|
|Virginia||2010 Code of Virginia, Title 67, Chapter 7|
|Wisconsin||Chapter 236, Section 292(2)|
|Utah*||Utah Code, Title 10, Chapter 9a, Section 610|
* Utah has clothesline-specific protections under the jurisdiction of some land-use authorities.
Read more on clotheslines:
Jon Howland is a Seattle-based teacher, debate coach, and Sightline volunteer. Alan Durning edited this post.