Don't Get Hung Up on Restrictions, Know Before You Buy

Written by Posted On Sunday, 27 May 2007 17:00

Living in a planned community with a Homeowner's Association can be a blessing or a lesson in frustration depending on which side of the clothesline you hang.

"It's a huge problem. There are 300,000 community associations around the country and I would say that a large majority of them ban or restrict the clothesline," says Alexander Lee, Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit, Project Laundry List, which he started 11 years ago when he was in college.

Lee says the old tradition is still popular with many people. But he says some see hanging clothes to dry in public view as harmful to property values and thus rules are written to prevent it. "Predominantly it's landlords and community associations that are restricting or banning tenants or property owners from using clotheslines," says Lee.

Lee says that results in missed opportunities to: conserve energy, make clothes last longer, smell better, save money, and eliminate dryer-fire risk.

According to statistics on the organization's website, , clothes dryer fires account for about 15,600 structure fires, 15 deaths, and 400 injuries annually. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that the national yearly fire loss is 99-million dollars resulting from dryer fires.

Lee says not only does hanging clothes out to dry reduce fire risks, but it also helps the environment. He realizes that this can be a chore for some.

"We recognize that the dryer has come to play a role in our culture and that for some people it's a necessity, particularly if they have allergies and they don't have room to hang inside. But we know that a lot more people could be using clothesline and drying racks and actually making their clothes last longer, smell better, and saving themselves a lot of money on their electricity bill," explains Lee.

Lee says some states such as Florida and Utah have Solar Rights Legislation while others are trying to put similar laws into place. "North Carolina is currently trying to replicate that," says Lee. He says the bill has been weakened by people who say property values will drop because of laundry lines.

"I frankly feel that that is a self-fulfilling prophecy and we need to stop talking about it as a flag of poverty as something that's ugly," says Lee.

He points out that many artists have capitalized on the image of hanging laundry in paintings and pictures, which Lee displays on his website.

As for discretionary hanging choices, Lee says, "The Amish have certainly made an art of it and different places around the world do it differently in terms of hanging undergarments inside or even hanging them inside the building and just hanging out your tee-shirts."

He says one of his board members, Dr. Helen Caldicott, commented, "'It's sort of a strange brand of American prudery that doesn't want to see peoples' undergarments hanging on the laundry line but they'll go to the movies and watch anything else.' I sort of agree with that; it's a practical thing that we can do," says Lee.

But rules are rules. So if you live in or plan to buy a home that's operated by a Homeowner's Association then you must be prepared to comply. "The bottom line is what's in the association's documents rule the day," says Frank Rathbun of the Community Associations Institute, (CAI).

Rathbun says the CAI does not have a particular stance on the clothesline issue. He does, however, say that it's important for community associations to review their regulations periodically.

"A rule that made sense 20 years ago may not make sense today. A rule that most residents wanted 15 years ago they may no longer want today. So we urge boards to conduct a periodic and transparent review of their rules. By transparent I mean this should involve the board and the residents in the community," explains Rathbun.

If you do live in a development that has a Homeowner's Association and the board hasn't done a review of its regulations, maybe it's time to write a letter or attend a board meeting to get the process started -- you may discover there is a laundry list of regulations that need some ironing out.

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Phoebe Chongchua

Phoebe Chongchua is an award-winning journalist, an author, customer service trainer/speaker, and founder of Setting the Service Standard, a customer service training and consulting program offered by Live Fit Enterprises (LFE) based in San Diego, California. She is the publisher of Live Fit Magazine, an online publication that features information on real estate/finance, physical fitness, travel, and philanthropy. Her company, LFE, specializes in media services including marketing, PR, writing, commercials, corporate videos, customer service training, and keynotes & seminars. Visit her magazine website:

Phoebe's articles, feature stories, and columns appear in various publications including The Coast News, Del Mar Village Voice, Rancho Santa Fe Review, and Today's Local News in San Diego, as well as numerous Internet sites. She holds a California real estate license. Phoebe worked for KGTV/10News in San Diego as a Newscaster, Reporter and Community Affairs Specialist for more than a decade. Phoebe's writing is also featured in Donald Trump's book: The Best Real Estate Advice I Ever Received and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying Foreclosures. She is the author of If the Trash Stinks, TAKE IT OUT! 14 Worriless Principles for Your Success.

Contact Phoebe at (858) 259-3646 or [email protected]. Visit for more information.

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