Globe Editorial

Clotheslines: Limits on the right to dry

June 17, 2011

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Massachusetts residents who want to dry their laundered underwear out in the breeze should be able to do so discreetly, but the state shouldn’t go too far in creating a broad “right to dry.’’ Under a bill offered by State Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield, towns could prohibit homeowner associations or real estate covenants from restricting what he calls “solar clothes-drying devices.’’ But while some homeowner associations are far too finicky about clotheslines, it’s fair to let them restrict the lines to back yards.

Last year, Concord passed the state’s first “right to dry’’ measure, a law prohibiting homeowner associations from barring outdoor clotheslines. But Attorney General Martha Coakley overturned the measure, saying it clashed with state laws. Downing’s bill would guarantee the right of towns like Concord to enact clothesline measures without running afoul of the state.

The pluck of the clothesline defenders is admirable; Concord’s ordinance was aimed at saving carbon emissions from power-guzzling dryers. Similar right-to-dry movements have taken hold in places from New Hampshire to Hawaii. The Laundry List, a national right-to-dry advocacy organization based in the Granite State, has even set up a flashy online petition urging the First Family to put up a clothesline on the White House lawn.

Just don’t make it the front lawn. It’s not too much to ask that clotheslines — er, solar clothes-drying devices — be placed in out-of-the-way spots.