Dear PoP – Are Clothes Lines Legal?

Photo by flickr user kenneoh

“Dear PoP,

Can you ask your readers if clothes lines (outdoor) are legal in Washington, DC? I thought they were illegal, but I can’t seem to find the correct answer…”

Wow, I’ve seen lots of clothes lines around DC. I just assumed, of course, it was legal. Why would it be illegal? Like a blight or something? Maybe there are rules like clothes can only be hung on a line for like 6 hours or something? Anyone know if there are any rules on this?

Personally I like clothes lines when they are in people’s back/side yards or fire escapes. But I suppose if everyone had one in their front yards it could look a bit odd…

45 Comment

  • How could these be illegal?

    • ah

      I was told, with a threat of a $500 fine, that having a firewood stack was illegal.

      So I can see how clotheslines would be.

      Anyway, the answer I’m aware of is that 24 DCMR 102.2 prohibits the use of public “parking” for laundry drying, which I take to mean you can’t have a clothesline going across the street, but could in your backyard.

      • Rats can live in firewood stacks. I think that’s the rationale.

        • ah

          Rats can live pretty much anywhere, so it’s not a very compelling rationale.

          (But, yes, that’s what they told me. They could not tell me, however, whether they had ever actually found rats in any of the thousands of firewood stacks around the city, let alone mine.)

      • In Washington, D.C., many private, residential properties, particularly in older neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, etc., are abutted by strips of public land called “parking,” which usually consists of front yard or front driveway space that residential property owners may use pursuant to an easement, but which remains public land. Essentially, this is the land area from the front wall of the house to the sidewalk.

        So, what this regulation means is that you cannot have use the area in your front yard for “laundry drying” if you front yard is public space.

        You can determine whether or not your front yard is public space by looking up your property plat at the D.C. Surveyor’s office. Also, if you own your house, you likely received (and paid for) a survey of your plat at your closing.

        In short, in most neighborhoods, you cannot dry laundry in your front yard. The back yard, however, is fair game.

        • Why would anyone want to dry their laundry in the front yard? I wouldn’t want someone pinching my knickers off the line!

          • there are many different property types in dc. some people may have front yards that work for this. some don’t have back yards.

  • It most likely is illegal for the front of any property but many homes in my area have them… near GA Metro.

    I would love to know the real answer and put one up in my back yard.

    Great question.

  • I would love to know as well. Dryers are energy hogs and they put a lot of wear and tear on clothes. Unfortunately, we’re the only country in the world that clotheslines enough of an eyesore to be prohibited.

    My guess is that some condos and housing communities don’t allow them, but the city itself doesn’t care. I see lots of them in SE and SW.

  • It may depend on if you’re in an historic district. Or not. When I was growing up (in Nashville) they were not legal if you could see them from the street. But I lived in the burbs where you also were not allowed to have yard signs. Go figure. I used to have a portable clothes line up in my fenced-in back yard here in Mt. Pleasant. When the clothes were dry, the line was reeled in. Never heard that it was a problem.

  • I think it’s funny that this question is being posed on one of the wettest days ever.

  • In regards to fire wood, termites pose more of a threat than rats. A stack of dead & decaying wood is like an all you can eat buffet for termites! I don’t know if that’s there rationale, but that’s what why I wouldn’t have it stacked next to my house. It could be due to risk of fire, but I’m not sure. I know it’s also illegal to have a gas grill next to your house, but everyone does it any way. DCFD told me once that the gas tanks sold at home depot are illegal because they are too large, but they never say anything about those either.

    • ah

      It wasn’t close to the house. Rats is what DCRA told me.

      Look, I don’t want rats, and I don’t want termites. But I want fires and found DCRA’s argument pretty bogus and unsubstantiated.

      BTW, the regulation says nothing about firewood. Something about “maintaining a rat harborage”. Given the city, owning land that’s not entirely paved (and even if it is) probably violates this regulation.

      • You’re allowed to keep firewood inside your home, just not outside. Rotting piles of wood (and tarps covering them) are ideal homes for rats. While you may keep your wood pile clean and dry, the city cannot trust most residents to do the same. Additionally, the longer firewood sits unused, the more hospitable to rats it becomes. There are enough rats in this city without creating more (totally avoidable) homes for them.

        Just get a bin and keep your firewood inside. No big deal.

  • I work in SW and the huge public housing complex on M street has dozens of clothes line. They are all the same and in pretty much every single yard so they must be installed by the complex and therefore legal. I guess. They do look like shit though.

    • That housing complex is what came to mind when I saw this post. I usually don’t think of clotheslines as an eyesore but in that case I would make an exception.

  • What is this? West Virginia?? We live in a dirty city with tons of air pollution. Your clothes will be dirty again the minute you hang them outside! c’mon people!

  • I’m from Australia, where virtually every home has a clothesline in the back garden, and many people dry their clothes on indoor airing racks when the weather is cold or wet. You save huge amounts of energy not running the dryer, your clothes last for much longer, and the sunshine gets your whites extra clean and bright. I love living in DC, but wish that outdoor clotheslines were more common — hanging your clothes on the line seems a reasonable trade for a more sustainable planet!

  • The problem with an indoor line is the amount of moisture that evaporates into the air and eventually into the wall assembly. In Australia, I would assume that the climate is significantly dryer than DCs. A couple loads of laundry could mean a couple liters of moisture in the air.

    • I dry indoors, especially in the winter time to help humidify the air that since heating sucks so much moisture out.

  • That’s a fair point about indoor drying in this climate, DC Home Inspector. I dry anything delicate indoors here without any discernible problems, but my American partner does insist on using the dryer for towels etc. Bring on the outdoor clotheslines!

  • I use a clothesline in the back of my house – as do quite a few of my alley neighbors.

    I also hang laundry to dry in the basement and it’s never been a problem. Humid summers put lots more moisture into the air than a few loads of laundry.

  • I dry sheets and towels & socks in the dryer, but most everything else – t shirts, blouses, shirts, skirts I just put on hangers in various bathrooms. Once dry I move the garment on the hanger right into the closet – no folding, no drawers, minimal use of both electric and kinetic energy.
    I aspire to the point where I could each day stand in front of the washer/dryer and disrobe directly into the washier, then cloth myself directly from the dryer and avoid the middle transport completely

  • My favorite smell in the world is a set of sheets that have been hung outside to dry. But not in Arizona – do that in Arizona and they smell gross.

  • I have a clothesline on the deck of my second story condo in CH. I worried a neighbor might not like it but so far, so good. I have the clothesline because I like having my clothes dried by natural forces rather than my dryer, I save money and emit less greenhouse gasses. To hell with the aesthetics.

  • You can have a clothesline in your back garden as long as it does not impede upon public space, i.e. alleys, the property easement the city owns (your front yard) or over your neighbors property. We have a clothesline on the second floor on top of our screened in porch…works like a charm. In the summer the clothes dry in 45 or so minutes, sheets and linens, 20 minutes. Saves lots o’ money compared to using the dryer. You can also use an indoor clothes rack to dry clothes in the winter…adds moisture to the dry winter air in your home.
    And about that firewood…go to Home Depot, buy some wood, make a frame on the ground, lay some gravel down in the frame, mix up some bags of concrete, pour it in over the gravel, stick some pressure treated posts up on the corners, say, 4 feet high. Let it set. Now remove the wood frame, take the wood frame pieces, lay on top of your cured now have a wood stack platform that should not be illegal.

  • Frankie James,,,,, you wish…..

  • Frankie James I have my Scissors very sharp…..

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