Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Right to Hang (Your Laundry)?

Story here:

PERKASIE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) – Carin Froehlich pegs her laundry to three clotheslines strung between trees outside her 18th-century farmhouse, knowing that her actions annoy local officials who have asked her to stop.

Froehlich is among the growing number of people across America fighting for the right to dry their laundry outside against a rising tide of housing associations who oppose the practice despite its energy-saving green appeal.

Although there are no formal laws in this southeast Pennsylvania town against drying laundry outside, a town official called Froehlich to ask her to stop drying clothes in the sun. And she received two anonymous notes from neighbors saying they did not want to see her underwear flapping about.

"They said it made the place look like trailer trash," she said, in her yard across the street from a row of neat, suburban houses. "They said they didn't want to look at my 'unmentionables.'"

Froehlich says she hangs her underwear inside. The effervescent 54-year-old is one of a growing number of Americans demanding the right to dry laundry on clotheslines despite local rules and a culture that frowns on it.

[...]

Florida, Utah, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, and Hawaii have passed laws restricting the rights of local authorities to stop residents using clotheslines. Another five states are considering similar measures, said Lee, 35, a former lawyer who quit to run the non-profit group.

Do the 6 states that have already passed laws against clotheslines have anything in common? That is a very diverse group.

While states are getting in on the action, it seems primarily that private homeowners associations are the primary conduit here. It brings up the hairy issue of distinguishing between clubs and government. It is hard for me to see it as coercion since that meant there was a contract you had to agree to ex-ante in order to buy the house, but the same can be said of any local government rule (or pirate ships for that matter).

I take very seriously the externality concerns in this story. While I can not find it in me to object to someone hanging their laundry, others might feel it equivalent to someone standing nude on their front lawn. The Coasian/Bloomington school in me thinks that this should be resolved over a pie among neighbors rather than in the courts.

(Hat Tip: Jason Oberle for the story.)

3 comments:

David said...

"Florida, Utah, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, and Hawaii have passed laws restricting the rights of local authorities to stop residents using clotheslines. Another five states are considering similar measures, said Lee, 35, a former lawyer who quit to run the non-profit group."

This sounds more like these six states have made laws protecting peoples' "right to hang".

The issue is really that homeowners associations are trying to apply their rules to their neighbors by pressuring the local government. I think that the 6 states listed are in the right here. It should be up to the homeowners associations to make a contract with the neighbors.

Justin M Ross said...

You're right, I misread that part about the states.

Regarding the HA's pressuring local government, my opposition wanes if this can be interpreted as the HA's pressuring local government to enforce contracts. If there was ex-ante agreement on these cosmetic points when entering the HA, then it would seem to be a legitimate function of the local government to enforce the contracts.

The details on this point aren't clear to me from the story, but obviously I'm having trouble reading the details this morning.

Matt said...

I personally believe it's very much akin to someone standing naked on their front lawn. It basically comes down to this, do I, as a casual observer have a right to dictate what you may do on your property if I may observe it?

Although in this sense, there is precedent. I personally say live and let live. If looking at dirty laundry or nudity offends me, I can either work on myself so that it doesn't, or try not to look. Either way, there is nothing inherently offensive with anything, it's a personal measure and as such the responsibility should lie with the beholder in my opinion.

Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case across the board, and if you're going to draw lines about what is and isn't offensive.. Who get's to draw those lines?