Context: Rental house built to US/Oregon code in 2008.

There's a receptacle in my kitchen covered by a blank plate. It's located vertically below the lip of my counter. When I opened it, it had one bundle of wires. Hot and neutral were both capped, and a no-contact tester told me the wires were hot. My intuition says that the home builders were going to install an outlet here before something stopped them.

Is there any reason I can't/shouldn't just pop a GFCI into the receptacle and call it good? Like e.g since the height of the outlet is below the level of the counter, water that gets on devices' cords will flow into the outlet

  • 7
    Being a rental adds problems. I think a tenant can replace receptacles if one goes bad, but adding a receptacle where one was not in place before might require a licensed electrician. The blank plate might be there because an inspector said they could not use it there.
    – crip659
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:48
  • 9
    Yeah, I'm afraid the "only licensed electricians can work on rental properties" rule bears full force here. Not to mention "you cannot modify the property without landlord permission". So I would just ask the landlord who they like for an electrician and have them come in and hook it up. If you could tell us which circuit it is on, maybe we could figure out why they abandoned it. Feb 21, 2023 at 21:36
  • 4
    The only option is "Landlord hires electrician to add receptacle." Just in case anyone missed it :)
    – Nelson
    Feb 22, 2023 at 3:40
  • 1
    Is metallic conduit/ground even present?
    – J D
    Feb 22, 2023 at 17:16
  • Yeah it has ground Feb 23, 2023 at 18:11

2 Answers 2


Aside from the "rental" legal issue, all you know so far is that the wires are live. You don't even know if they are hot and neutral, because in standard US cables, you can't tell without testing. Among the possible situations:

  • They might both be hot - i.e., a 240V circuit. Plugging in a regular 120V receptacle would lead to some excitement. (Easy to test and find out.)
  • They might be switched somewhere - e.g., same switch as your ceiling lights. If you only test with the lights on, you wouldn't know. But your slow cooker with tomorrow's soup won't turn out so good when you turn out the lights and go to sleep. (A little harder to test, basically have to map the circuit or try every switch in the area.)
  • They might not be a proper hot/neutral match. Maybe a mixup in another junction box. Installer found the problem but didn't bother to fix it because there were enough other receptacles. (Not easy to test without mapping the circuit, but relatively unusual in a new house.)
  • Hot/neutral reverse. Again, installer found the problem but didn't bother to fix it. (Easy to test if you have a good ground.)
  • No ground. You can use GFCI as a way to circumvent "missing ground" in an old house, you can't do that here (for a couple of reasons). (Easy to test.)
  • The circuit ended up being used for a hard-wired dishwasher or other large appliance, using more than 50% of the available power and therefore not allowed to have any additional receptacles. (Impossible to test without mapping the circuit.)

And probably a few other things I haven't thought of. And you can't do it anyway because it is a rental. But listing some possibilities for future readers who may have a similar situation in their own home.

  • 9
    Many of these "oddball" situations are the reason you're not allowed to DIY electrical in someone else's house - you're free to burn down your own property but not someone else's. Likewise, the landlord can't DIY in the rental property, because he's free to kill himself by screwing up his home wiring, but he's not allowed to kill you with his questionable workmanship.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 22, 2023 at 0:53
  • 3
    @Freeman well, he CAN; he just goes to jail for negligence causing death. Renter would still be dead.
    – Nelson
    Feb 22, 2023 at 3:41
  • 2
    "... would lead to some excitement." Snrk! :D
    – Martha
    Feb 22, 2023 at 20:31

It's a junction box, NOT a receptacle, and being in a rental, no, your landlord would need to agree to hire a licensed electrician to change it to a receptacle, if that's even possible.

If it's a rental house you happen to own - guess what, you STILL need to hire a licensed electrician to do it. That arises from "shoddy slumlord substandard work killing tenants" and applies even if you are not a slumlord.

There may not be enough room in the box for that, for instance, which makes a bigger job changing the box as well, etc...

  • I've seen this sort of thing used for junction boxes on islands/peninsulas many times. Sometimes the splice can be made in a junction box accessible from inside a cabinet, but sometimes there's just not enough room (or the other side of the wall is a "wet area") so you have to make the box open to the exterior instead.
    – bta
    Feb 23, 2023 at 0:50

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