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Do You Need a Permit for Shipping Containers?

If you’re looking to buy a shipping container, perhaps to set up some offices for your construction site, start a pop-up shop or fulfill another business need, then you need to prepare for any legal challenges that could affect the success of your project.

Do Shipping Containers Need a Permit?

The use of shipping containers in other areas of business beyond transport and storage has become quite commonplace. But if it’s your first time getting one, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the legal matters involved in setting up shipping containers structures. So, do you need a permit for a shipping container?

Historically, people who purchased shipping containers could place them in different places around the country without getting a permit. But with the increased rate of development in recent years, many local authorities have started to regulate their installation. Currently, you can’t simply set up your modified shipping container structure anywhere you want. In fact, many towns are constantly identifying and managing any existing containers that have been placed without a permit. That said, the specific legal requirements will depend on your chosen location.

Regulations for Shipping Container Structures

Shipping containers are commonly used for storage and other residential and commercial purposes. But regardless of your application, you will be required to follow the guidelines as provided under the Ontario Building Code and applicable local zoning by-laws.

The Ontario Building Code stipulates that any shipping container setup that occupies an area measuring 160 – 320 square feet and is placed on land, should be considered as a structure. Considering that a building permit is mandatory for the construction or placement of structures covering an area of 108 square feet (or 10 square meters), this means that you also need to get a permit for the placement of standard-sized containers.

Whether you plan on placing the shipping container on your residential property or commercial property at a work-site, it’s important that you consult your vendor or local Building Division before proceeding with your shipping container purchase.

Besides being in compliance with the regulatory requirements, getting a shipping container permit will help to ensure the safety of your project. Before you can be issued with a permit, a certified inspector must visit and assess the site where you intend to place the container and check that its placement will not cause any safety, health or environmental issues. Some of the factors evaluated include:

  • Stability of the ground to avoid collapse under weight
  • Drainage or topography of the ground
  • Snow loading
  • Risk of overturning or uplift
  • Anchorage
  • Wind resistance
  • Structural safety

Temporary vs. Permanent Shipping Container Structures

The type of building permit you obtain may depend on whether you’re renting or buying the shipping container.

For shipping container rentals, which are typically used for short-term storage applications or portable facilities for a construction site, you will need to obtain building permits that ensure compliance with relevant regulations such as:

  • Detailed site plan where you plan to place the container
  • Interior layout of the shipping container
  • Type of items to be stored in the container
  • Man door installation for office modifications
  • Separate electrical permit
  • Location and colour requirements

If you’re planning to buy a shipping container that will be used as a permanent structure, then the type of permits you require are subject to zoning and building regulations that include:

  • Property zoning – determines the locations you’re allowed to install your container depending on similar structures in your city.
  • Mobile, modular and manufactured building codes – these structures require you to satisfy specific building standards. So you need to fit your shipping container project in the appropriate category and then find the relevant permits.
  • Building codes and permits – you’re expected to provide proof that your shipping container project complies with relevant building code requirements.

Property Zoning

This involves segmenting large areas of land into separate sections that influence the type of structures that are allowed to be constructed there. Zoning is carried out by city governments to assist in planning the growth and development of the city so that similar buildings or structures are grouped together for density control. This is what influences how industries or manufacturing plants are only set up in a specific area of the city, or how liquor stores cannot be found within a certain distance from churches or residential areas. So property zoning plays a big role in getting a permit for your shipping container project.

Building Codes and Permits

Building codes are needed to ensure that certain construction standards are maintained, such as the process of building residential homes. Applying for building permits allows you to prove that your structure is in compliance with relevant building codes. This means that you cannot legally proceed with your construction project without this approval.

The building codes are typically based on the National Building Code of Canada, as well as the The Canadian Standards Association (CSA), which publishes other model codes that address electrical, gas and elevator systems. These codes are continually updated, so you should follow the current guidelines. That said, some cities implement their own unique building codes. To ensure that your permits for purchasing a shipping container are approved, ask your local authorities about the right code to follow.

Mobile, Modular, and Manufactured Building Codes

The manufacturer will help you choose the applicable code depending on how you plan to use your modified container. Generally, modular structures are built in a factory, transported to a site with a permanent foundation and then assembled on-site. Manufactured structures (previously known as mobile homes) are built entirely in a factory and then transported on a permanent chassis for installation on site. These structures must comply with the CSA National Standard for Manufactured (Mobile) Home Construction or the National Building Code (NBC).

Final Note

You need a building permit for your shipping container. That said, you should keep in mind that the requirements for getting a permit for shipping container structures vary from place to place. If you’re not using your shipping container to transport goods but instead using it for some sort of occupancy, such as storage of items, retail, office or some other purpose that requires it to be placed on a single location on the ground, then you need to get a building permit for it.

Keeping in mind that every individual city has its own set of rules, then it’s highly likely that the regulations and requirements for each city are different. So make sure to seek appropriate building permit information for your specific municipality when you plan to rent or buy a shipping container.

To learn more about shipping containers, call Secure Container at (416) 817-3216 or contact us here

*Updated November 2023

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