Even as Dubliners Look to Cut Energy Use, Apartments Ban Hanging Laundry to Dry on Balconies

Luis Bruno rents a two-bedroom apartment in Grand Canal Dock together with his wife for €1,925 per month.

He likes the apartment, he says, but he can barely tolerate one of the rules, which stipulates that he can’t put a clothes horse on his balcony to dry laundry.

Bruno says that where he comes from, in rural Portugal, everyone hangs out their washing. “Why would you not?” Most apartments come with washing lines built in, he says.

The sun may not beat down as hard in Ireland as it does in Portugal, but it still makes sense to dry laundry outside here, he says. Hanging it inside a flat can lead to dampness and mould.

The alternative is the tumble dryer, but he worries about the impact of that on the environment – as well as his electricity bill. “Global warming is a reality we can’t escape,” says Bruno.

In light of the double whammy of a climate crisis and the cost of living crisis, Bruno thinks the Irish government should introduce national legislation to ensure that all apartment dwellers have access to outdoor space to dry clothes.

Labour Party Senator Rebecca Moynihan has tabled legislation that seeks, among other things, to outlaw the balcony ban for tenants.

In April 2022, the Department of the Environment launched an initiative called Reduce Your Use to encourage energy efficiency. The Minister for the Environment, Green Party TD Eamon Ryan, has repeatedly asked people to cut their energy use.

But the Department of the Environment directed queries about rules on clothes drying to individual property management companies and to the Department for Housing.

The Department of Housing has not yet responded to queries sent Tuesday as to whether in light of climate change, the government plans to introduce regulations to outlaw the balcony ban.

Three property-management companies in Dublin didn’t respond to queries about bans on clothes horses on balconies.

Push For Reform

According to the Electric Ireland, it takes the same amount of electricity to tumble dry a load of laundry as to watch 28 hours of television on a large flatscreen TV.

Bruno says that there is no space for a separate dryer in his flat and the combination washer-dryers take a very long time to dry clothes.

“The combis are very expensive and inefficient and a complete waste of energy compared to the sun,” he says.

In September 2021, Moynihan, the Labour senator, worked on tenant rights legislation that, among other things, would stipulate that landlords cannot ban tenants from hanging out washing on balconies or in gardens.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” she says. “It is very environmentally unfriendly in a climate crisis.”

Moynihan says there is no reasonable basis for the rule. “It is not based on anything other than some people don’t like the look of it,” she says. “It’s pure snobbery.”

Drying clothes indoors can be bad for people’s health too, she says.

Her legislation is based on the model tenancy agreements now in use in the UK. Under those, landlords are now required to accept tenants with pets, unless they have a specific reason why they cannot.

The bill has passed the second stage and now it is up to the government to decide whether to adopt it, she says. But she has not had any indication so far that they intend to do so, says Moynihan.

One question is how any law would interact with rules set for apartment complexes by owners’ management companies (OMCs).

Each apartment complex has an OMC made up of all the owners of apartments, including homeowners and landlords, and which decides rules for those living in the block. Renters don’t have a voice on OMCs.

Moynihan says that if the legislation she has proposed is agreed, then the minister could also introduce regulations to prevent OMCs from including the balcony ban in their house rules.

The Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 says the minister can regulate the house rules in an apartment complex.

“The Minister may make regulations relating to – (a) the making of house rules, and (b) the matters to which they may relate,” it says.

However, a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said the Department of Housing also doesn’t have the power to intervene.

“Please also note that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage do not regulate Multi-Unit Developments,” said the spokesperson.

The Department of Housing didn’t respond to queries.

Designing Out the Issue

John-Barry Lowe says residents in the apartment complex where he lives aren’t allowed to hang out washing on the balcony.

Lowe, an architect with Eden Architects who owns his flat, says he doesn’t think it would look good if they did, as the balconies are made of glass.

The problem, as he sees it, is that apartments in Ireland are designed to low standards. There is often a lack of storage, and nowhere to dry clothes, he says.

Often, in modern apartments in Spain, the designs include special outdoor balconies for drying clothes, he says. “The trick would be to design a space that was covered,” he says.

Lowe has innovated so he can dry laundry for his family of four, he says. He installed a wall-mounted clothes horse over the bath and then he changed the fan in the bathroom to a trickle fan, which he leaves on all the time, he says.

A trickle fan is a silent extractor fan on a very low setting that is left on continuously, he says.

Running the fan costs around €32 per year, he says. It pulls the moisture out of the air and the clothes dry in about two days, he says. “Not only does it dry the clothes, it improves the air quality in the home as well.”

Bruno says that some apartment complexes in Portuguese cities also ban residents from drying laundry on balconies. “The big difference is that buildings with such rules will have communal areas, like a roof patio, for the purpose.”

As long as his apartment complex doesn’t offer him an alternative, he will continue drying his clothes on the balcony, he says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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