On a recent cold, wintry day, Peggy Brace stepped out onto her front porch with a basket of laundry. The biting wind was no deterrent. If anything, Brace considered it an advantage.
“It’s the wind that dries the clothes more than the sun in the winter. As you can see, it’s not so hot,” Brace said, chuckling. “And the fresh air, it disinfects your clothes, too.”
For almost a decade, this Concord resident has been fighting for the right to dry. It all started in 2010, after she learned that a new local condominium development didn’t allow its residents to hang out their laundry. Brace filed an article in the local town meeting warrant to override the ban. Her efforts paid off.
A town law was passed that made Concord the first community in Massachusetts to prohibit condo associations from not allowing homeowners to hang out their laundry. Shortly after, though, then Attorney General Martha Coakley overturned the measure. But Brace has continued on with her campaign.
“I live in a single house here and I can hang out whatever I feel like, but I realize so many other people in town, the condos and planned residential communities, are really very fierce about anybody hanging up their laundry. I guess the condos think they’re going to look like a New York tenement house or something,” she said.
Hanging laundry often clashes with condo and homeowner association rules that enforce a uniform look. But with climate change as a top concern, six states have passed laws protecting the right to dry no matter where you live. Similar legislation got hung up last year in the State House, but Sen. Michael Barrett from Lexington re-introduced the bill this year. For Brace, the environmental impact is the heart of the issue.
“It’s a horrendous situation where saving energy is not part of the scene, somehow. I mean, nobody complains about my green shirt and my black pants, but if I put it on the clothesline, they think, 'Wow, that really looks tacky.' Same clothes,” Brace said.
Same clothes, sure, but your neighbor may not want to see them anywhere else except on you, said Matthew Gaines, a lawyer who represents condo associations in Massachusetts and chairs the Massachusetts Legislative Action Committee for Community Associations Institute.
“The whole idea of condo living is you move into a community and there’s a set of guidelines. And people move in there because of that. And mandating by the legislature that you can’t prohibit clotheslines sort of flies in the face of that,” he said.
Gaines said the language in the proposed bill should at least provide more flexibility instead of imposing a universal ban.
“The reality is that the entire community association of living is a very democratic process in and of itself, in that all documents can be amended,” he said. “If enough residents in the community felt compelled to change their documents because they want to dry their clothes outside, they could band together and amend the documents.”
In the meantime, Brace will continue airing her thoughts on the matter on her front porch.
“It’s changed people’s attitudes even in town,” she said, referring to Concord. “People really have taken note. And it’s very neighborly, too, everyone hanging out their wash.”