Dirty Laundry: Private Contract Threatened in Maryland

The rights of homeowners to form associations is under attack in Maryland, where some residents believe that the state should forbid homeowners associations HOAs from enforcing some community guidelines.

The Post Express and the Washington Examiner both published an AP story last week outlining the frustrations that some Maryland residents have over not being able to hang their laundry outside—an action that’s forbidden by their HOAs.

One homeowner and clothesline enthusiast can’t let this injustice (to her) stand. Wei Wang, was cited in the AP piece saying that Maryland should pass a law “that forbids HOAs from preventing people from hanging laundry outside as soon as possible.”

Though I sympathize with Wang’s frustrations, this complaint shouldn’t be brought to the state. HOAs are private, voluntary organizations that residents become a part of in order to ensure that their community adheres to certain guidelines. Though these guidelines can sometimes be cumbersome, they can also prevent eyesores like perpetually uncut lawns or bright pink siding on the neighbor’s house—things that I would find amusing, but others may find distasteful.

Voluntary rules and restrictions are a part of life in a free society. We agree to wipe down equipment at the gym after each use, we consent to wearing stuffy clothes to the office, and we sign long-term contracts for everything from cell phone plans to car leases. When we don’t like the terms, we can renegotiate or seek a competitor—inviting in the authority of the state only serves to undermine our most basic right to private contract.

It seems that Wang tried renegotiation, but failed.

Wang originally protested the rule of her HOA recounting that she “Wrote them a letter and explained to them that hanging laundry outside is a good way to save energy.” A good appeal to reason, but her HOA decided it valued laundry-less backyards more than helping the nation grapple with high energy prices.

Thankfully for Wang she lives in a society where freedom allows for competition, even among HOAs. Other communities don’t have rules forbidding outdoor clotheslines, leaving her with other options. She could also consider hanging clothes indoors, something my mother did for years with the aide of a very affordable wall-mounted retractable clothesline. These options would allow Wang to get what she wants without asking the State of Maryland to take away the right of other people to agree on community standards.

Perhaps Wang will regret her statement when her neighbor lobbies for a law striking down her HOA’s restrictions on keeping venomous snakes as pets or installing large, outdoor speakers in order to enjoy Pantera in the front lawn. Hanging clothes inside may then seem like a reasonable restriction.