As expected, the City of Waterloo is now engaged in an all-out witch hunt to root out homeowners who dare to construct a second kitchen and/or rent rooms in the houses they own without first having obtained a license from the city for the privilege.
Bureaucrats patrolling craigslist
A friend of mine who owns a condo on Albert St. just received a nasty letter from the City of Waterloo. It has come to the City’s attention that she has been renting her condo without a license; she must apply immediately for an $800 license or face a punitive fine.
My friend called the City and asked how her nefarious letting had come to their attention. She was told that municipal bureaucrats are now trolling websites such as craigslist or kijiji looking for rental ads. Your tax dollars at work.
(Fortunately, my friend is in the process of selling her condo, so there’s no need for her to purchase a license… assuming she can find a willing buyer in a town overrun by a 19th century lynch mob.)
The alarmingly high incidence of uncovered electrical boxes
The parents of another of my friends were unfortunate enough to move to Waterloo shortly after the rental licensing bylaw was passed by council. They bought two houses — one to live in and another to rent. Coming from Ottawa, they had no idea that Waterloo’s new bylaw completely changes the calculus of home ownership.
Upon hearing of the new law, these hapless, upstanding people made the mistake of willingly disclosing to the City that they intend to rent their house; they even proactively applied for a rental license. (Yes, I can hear your hand slapping your forehead.)
These innocent baby-boomers were in for a nasty surprise. The City came and inspected the property. Everything was in working order except that a single electrical box was missing a cover plate. Normally, such a breach would require the homeowner to schedule a second inspection at her expense after fixing the problem ($70 I think). However, this particular inspector was feeling generous: he’d let this offense slide if they promise to cover the open box right away.
Your house is illegal if you have one of these.
I wonder: how many homes in Waterloo–rental or otherwise–would fail such an inspection? I can think of at least one uncovered electrical box in my own house. Can you imagine the uproar if every last NIMBYer suburbanite in Waterloo were forced to conform to the standards they’ve so casually foisted upon others?
Thou shalt not have two kitchens
Alas, my friend’s parents were not let off so easily. For you see, the rental house they bought has a second kitchen in the basement. That’s a big no-no here in Waterloo, and most newcomers are not aware of it. These fresh new homeowners were shocked to discover that they would have to tear out the second kitchen as soon as possible, regardless of whether they chose to rent. Naturally, they can only pass inspection and obtain a rental license after the kitchen is removed.
Waterloo’s secret definitions of “kitchen” and “stove”
It is not uncommon for a homeowner in Waterloo to be blindsided by the sudden need to remove a kitchen from a home, and many more are sure to follow in the future. Naturally, these homeowners wish to wreck as little of their homes as necessary in order to obey the law. Thus, there is great interest in what exactly a “kitchen” is and how one might change it to a non-kitchen.
Despite this keen interest, it is not at all clear what constitutes a “kitchen” here in Waterloo. Details are not easily forthcoming; getting a straight answer from the City is like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Over the years I have been able to glean only tiny snippets of Waterloo’s secret definition of the word “kitchen”.
Here’s what I know. Surely, extra sinks, cabinets, and fridges are allowed–many NIMBYers have such amenities in their own houses! What else goes in a kitchen? A stove. I’m told that the defining feature of a kitchen is a stove.
What exactly is a “stove”? Does a toaster-oven count? What about those tiny, one-burner hot plates that plug into a normal 120-volt receptacle? I’m told that these appliances are okay. The red line, apparently, is the 240-volt stove.
You are allowed to keep one of these outside your kitchen. It is not a stove.
So now the City needs to define what exactly is a “stove”. Let’s assume for the moment that there is some universal essence of “stoveness” and that the City has somehow captured that essence in its bylaw, so there is a clear distinction between stoves and other 240-volt appliances.
You might think that you could evade the second-kitchen bylaw by simply unplugging your stove and hiding it in the shed while the inspector visits. But the City isn’t so easily fooled: 240-volt receptacles are also banned outside the kitchen….
…unless they are intended for non-stove appliances, such as a clothes dryer. We don’t want to prohibit clothes dryers, right? (Indeed, some might still remember the days when the only way to dry your clothes legally in Waterloo was with a clothes dryer. Remember the clothesline bans?)
How can we obey secret laws?
As you can see, it’s very difficult to formally separate the things that the NIMBYers wish to ban (two kitchens in one house) from the things that they themselves already have. This is one possible explanation as to why the City is so tight-lipped about what exactly it considers to be a kitchen. Newcomers who wish to obey the law while they renovate or rent are given the runaround by the City, and most are simply left confused in the dark.
My own piecemeal knowledge of Waterloo’s anti-kitchen bylaw is bound to be inaccurate. Unanswered questions remain. For example:
- How exactly does one prove to the city that a given 240-volt receptacle is not intended for use with a stove? Conversely, how does every NIMBYer in Waterloo prove that she won’t swap out her clothes dryer for a stove after the inspector leaves?
- There must be a minimal set of changes that one can make to a second kitchen so that it is no longer a “kitchen” in the eyes of the City. What are those changes? (And why won’t the City spell them out for us?) For example, can I turn a kitchen into a non-kitchen simply by removing the 240-volt receptacle from the wall? (Naturally, a less scrupulous homeowner could replace the receptacle as soon as the inspector leaves.)
- The 240-volt red-line applies only to electric stoves. What about gas stoves? Gas appliances outside the kitchen are common (gas driers, fireplaces, furnace, water heater, etc.) so certainly it’s legal to have a gas line in your basement. What’s to stop me from hooking up a gas stove after the inspector leaves?
- As mentioned previously, what exactly is a stove? Is it a “stove” if it has burners but no oven? Oven but no burners? How big can burners or an oven be without being considered a “stove”? What if someone invents some ingenious new way of heating food that is neither a burner nor an oven? (Should the City really be in the business of defining stoves?)
Are gas stoves legal? What’s to stop me from plugging one in after the inspector leaves?
As far as I’m aware, there is no formal definition of the word “kitchen” in Waterloo. (Or if there is, no one knows about it.) How can we obey a law that the City refuses to tell us about? How did Waterloo slip into this fishy, Russia-sytle practice of enforcing secret laws?
A sucker buys here every minute
My friend’s parents with the two-kitchen house are at their wits end. After months of frustration and bureaucracy, they’re giving up. They’ve decided to sell their rental home.
That’s an interesting–and despicable–outcome. I wonder how many now-unprofitable rental homes will appear on the real estate market, to be snapped up by unwitting out-of-towners who will be in for a nasty surprise when they discover all the petty little bylaws their new house is breaking. These hapless victims will be forced into the difficult choice of either (a) taking a huge loss when they re-sell, or (b) trying to pass the problem on to some other unsuspecting victim.
Welcome to the world’s top intelligent community. Please submit the form entitled, “Application for Non-Stove Use of a 240-volt Receptacle Outside of a Kitchen” for review by the City of Waterloo’s Bureau for Single-Stove Enforcement (BSSE).