May 2010 – Spring is in the air, and wet clothes may be, too.

With warmer weather, homeowners in more areas of the country may want to air their clean laundry on clotheslines to both save energy and get that fresh-air scent on their clothes. Can your homeowners association interfere with owners’ efforts to air-dry clothes? Here are tips on creating a sensible policy.

Mountain out of a Clothesline?

The press has breathlessly informed the public about the big drama occurring at homeowners associations nationwide—the dreaded fight over clotheslines! But is the fight all that big or prevalent? Nah.

“I have to tell you,” says Debra A. Warren, principal of Cinnabar Consulting in San Rafael, Calif., which provides training and employee development services to community association management firms and training and strategic planning sessions for association board members, “I’ve not dealt with it one time ever.”

So is the clothesline drama a real brouhaha or a press creation? “I think it’s a little of both,” says Elizabeth White, a shareholder and head of the community associations practice at the law firm of LeClairRyan in Williamsburg, Va. “In Virginia, a legislator proposed a law in 2009 that we dubbed the ‘granny panty’ legislation. It would have invalidated any covenants or rules by community associations that prohibited clotheslines or clothes-drying apparatus. The legislator should have introduced it in a real property bill, but he tacked it onto an energy bill. We woke up to that piece of legislation late in the game, but it was deep-sixed.”

However, Colorado, Florida, and Hawaii are among states that do have such legislation.

“In concept, it seems like a great thing that everybody should be allowed to have a clothes-drying apparatus,” says White. “But when you think about high-rise condos or even planned communities where homes aren’t in enclosed areas, it can dramatically alter the visual landscape.”

Duane McPherson, the San Rafael, Calif.-based division president at RealManage, an association management firm that oversees properties in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, and Texas, also hasn’t seen many clothesline disputes. But he agrees clotheslines can become a problem. “Most of what we get is high-rise condos in which people are washing clothes and then hanging them on the patio to dry so they’re visible down below. Those can become problematic and are often specifically disallowed. In most cases, you contact the owners and ask them remove them.”

The Policy that Fits Your Community

So what should your association’s policy be? If your state doesn’t prohibit you from regulating clotheslines, you need to determine what you and your owners consider acceptable. “In the 1970s, home offices weren’t all that prevalent, but now covenants say you can’t operate a business out of a home in the community,” says White. “I’d put clotheslines in that category of changing environmental needs, public policy, and a lot of people’s expectations. We try to come up with rules that take into account that people are more energy sensitive, but we also need to create rules that answer the needs of the individual community. In some cases, multifamily communities in particular, that can be challenging. If we can regulate your mailbox and flag, it creates this inconsistency with the clothesline issue.”

Your safest bet may be to find a middle ground. You may choose to allow air drying during certain times of the day or permit clotheslines to be installed in certain areas. “A lot of communities with single-family homes will allow clotheslines,” says McPherson. “But they’ll state that they can’t be visible from the road.”

HOA Leader

Matt Humphrey is president of the Alameda, California-based, from which this article was adapted.

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