The “Right to Dry” Campaign

“Forbidding sheets and undershirts to flap in the New England sunshine is akin to banning boiled lobsters or requiring New Hampshire town clerks to smile.”

-Froma Harrop, “‘The Right to Dry’ versus Starbuckization”
The Providence Journal, February 1999

“I love clotheslines and all that they stand for: beautiful and proud, art installations with clothes, the flags of our life. So join me as I hang my clothes. Save energy, take time to whiff the blue breezes, feel the sparkling yellow sunshine, beautify Poughkeepsie and hang a clothesline. In Venice, when one woman wants to compliment another it is said: “She hangs a beautiful line.”

-Marian Dioguardi to the Mayor of Poughkeepsie when she voted to restrict clotheslines to the backyard only, September, 2007

Many people in the United States, Canada, and, increasingly, in other parts of the world (Uzbek Capital Cracks Down On Clotheslines and Anti-laundry patrols clean up Al Ain) are not allowed to hang out their clothes to dry in the sun. Think about that!

Community covenants, landlord prohibitions, and zoning laws are the three primary means of stopping people from using clotheslines. State, local, and federal legislators are encouraged to introduce “Right to Dry” legislation to stem this growing problem; government executives and commissioners are encouraged to act by executive order or rule-making. It is time for us to re-claim their rights and shine the sun on common sense solutions.

Project Laundry List Board of Advisors member Dick McCormack, a former Vermont State Senator, re-introduced the Right to Dry bill in 1999, which his brother had introduced almost ten years prior. The battle of common sense over aesthetics finally ended in Vermont in 2009 with the passage of H.446- An act relating to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Most of the restrictions are at the community association level. Community associations are a fourth layer of government which assess fees instead of taxes, and have certain statutorily mandated democratic processes, like quorums, majorities, and regular meetings. They are largely governed by contract law and by covenants, which are a common law construct. They punish transgressors through fines and evictions, usually after a warning.

Sixty million Americans live within such places (approx. 20% of our nation) and most of these places (condos, gated communities, mobile home parks, retirement communities, etc.) have a restriction or an outright ban on hanging clothes outside.

There are also municipalities (i.e., cities and towns) that have outlawed the clothesline in certain places. The penalty would be a civil fine or, unlikely but also possible, eviction.

Legislative Briefing and Other Useful Materials

Energy Reserves Group v. Kansas P. & L. Co., 459 U.S. 400 (1983)

Are you tired of not being able to hang out your clothes? Are you or your neighbors prohibited from using the clothesline? Would you like to save money and energy by using a “solar dryer”?

163.04 Energy devices based on renewable resources.—

(1) Notwithstanding any provision of this chapter or other provision of general or special law, the adoption of an ordinance by a governing body, as those terms are defined in this chapter, which prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the installation of solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources is expressly prohibited.

(2) A deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or similar binding agreement may not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources from being installed on buildings erected on the lots or parcels covered by the deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or binding agreement. A property owner may not be denied permission to install solar collectors or other energy devices by any entity granted the power or right in any deed restriction, covenant, declaration, or similar binding agreement to approve, forbid, control, or direct alteration of property with respect to residential dwellings and within the boundaries of a condominium unit. Such entity may determine the specific location where solar collectors may be installed on the roof within an orientation to the south or within 45° east or west of due south if such determination does not impair the effective operation of the solar collectors.

(3) In any litigation arising under the provisions of this section, the prevailing party shall be entitled to costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.

(4) The legislative intent in enacting these provisions is to protect the public health, safety, and welfare by encouraging the development and use of renewable resources in order to conserve and protect the value of land, buildings, and resources by preventing the adoption of measures which will have the ultimate effect, however unintended, of driving the costs of owning and operating commercial or residential property beyond the capacity of private owners to maintain. This section shall not apply to patio railings in condominiums, cooperatives, or apartments.

History.—s. 8, ch. 80-163; s. 1, ch. 92-89; s. 14, ch. 93-249; s. 1, ch. 2008-191; s. 3, ch. 2008-227.

  • Register your community if your are prohibited from hanging your clothes. [coming soon]

Some believe Property Values Will Decrease

Listening to Richard Monson, the president of the California Association of Homeowners Associations, you would think that homeowners ought to be as worried about clotheslines as about vermin or graffiti. A clothesline in a neighborhood can lower property values by “15 percent,” Monson is fond of saying. “Modern homeowners don’t like people’s underwear in public. It’s just unsightly.” (See full article…)

Our Response:

“Where in Victorian times, clotheslines were ubiquitous, Mrs. Brown’s brassiere blowing in the breeze has apparently become scandalizing to some modern Americans. A strange brand of prudery has made it impossible for some people to conserve energy and money by using a clothesline.”

– Helen Caldicott, M.D., Founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and member of Project Laundry List Board of Advisors

No US state or Canadian province bans clotheslines at the state or provincial level. Several states and provinces (FL, UT, HI, ME, MD, VT, and CO) have some sort of law that overrides or strikes some or all of the contractual and covenantal prohibitions on clotheslines. Florida has the best law and it passed in the 1970s. Colorado passed its weak law that applies only to retractable clotheslines in 2008. The Premier of Ontario (CANADA) lifted the ban in subdivision for the province on April 19, 2008 (aka National Hanging Out Day).Utah has a very limited law (not sure what year it passed) that applies only to the approval of plats. Utah has a weaker law, but still defends “reasonably sited” clotheslines. Utah Code and Constitution/Title 10 — Utah Municipal Code/Title 10 Chapter 09a — Municipal Land Use, Development, and Management/10-9a-610 Restrictions for solar and other energy devices. Maryland passed its law in Spring 2010 and the other three states passed legislation in spring 2009.Colorado passed legislation that protects the retractable clothesline from infringement by landlords, community associations, or municipal bodies. See 38-33.3-106.7. Unreasonable restrictions on energy efficiency measures – definitions.

See Florida’s state law that allows clotheslines everywhere. Get help from Florida Solar Energy Industry Association at (800) 426-5899.

Hawaii passed a Right to Dry bill again in 2009 and this time Governor Linda Lingle let it become law without her signature on July 15. Became law without the Governor’s signature, Act 192, 7/15/2009, (Gov. Msg. No. 549).

Maine passed legislation in 2009, which can be found here.

Maryland passed legislation in 2010. Here is a good appraisal of what it does from a law firm’s newsletter: New Maryland Law Forbids Prohibition of Clotheslines in Condominiums, Homeowner Associations, and Cooperatives.

Nova Scotia passed a right to dry bill.

On April 19, 2008, Ontario’s Premier, Dalton McGiunty, signed ONTARIO REGULATION 97/08 made under the ENERGY CONSERVATION LEADERSHIP ACT, 2006.

After years of hard work, Sen Dick McCormack was congratulated by his colleagues for the inclusion of a Right to Dry provision in a bigger energy bill. Vermont passed legislation in 2009, which can be found here.