Hung out to dry

It’s pretty common for community associations to issue fines to homeowners who don’t weed their landscape down to the last dandelion or paint their fence at a time deemed appropriate. So it’s no real surprise that clotheslines are typically a no-no in these types of neighborhoods. After all, many of the roughly 60 million U.S. residents who live in places with a homeowners association (HOA) like the assurance that the aesthetics of the community will likely stay the same.

However, sometimes their neighbors may just want to reduce their energy use. That’s why a number of states have passed laws in recent years to allow solar panels to be erected in HOA communities. And it’s why other states, such as Colorado, California, Utah, Hawaii, Florida, Vermont and Maine, have succeeded in passing laws to allow clotheslines, as well. However, Oregon, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia have not been able to pass such a law.

Not long ago, a clothesline in the yard could be construed as a mark of poverty. Now that “climate change” and “recession” are household words, an increasing number of people are viewing clotheslines as common sense, both for the environment and their energy bill. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, dryers use nearly 6 percent of a home’s total electricity. Project Laundry List, a “right to dry” clothesline-advocating website, believes that figure is more like 10 to 25 percent.

With an almost ironic logic, many HOA board members—though adept at telling people who’ve paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their homes how to maintain them—think states should not make for them decisions that were formerly made by association boards. They also fear that, during a time when it’s already difficult to sell a home and foreclosures are common, a neighbor’s clothesline could lower property values.

Some community associations and clothesline advocates have reached a compromise by agreeing to use only retractable or removable clotheslines and to dry only at certain hours of the day.