How to Navigate Shipping Container
Zoning Laws & Stay Legal

By Yolanda

You’ve decided to put a shipping container on your property. I’m excited for you. I bet you can’t wait to get that container and start using it.

But hold up. Imagine how you would feel if you put a container on your property only to find out later that local regulations don’t allow it.

This happened to my brother-in-law. He put two shipping containers in his backyard, but he didn’t look up the zoning laws first. So he paid for the containers, paid to have them delivered, and paid to have them removed.

That was a costly mistake just because he didn’t look up the rules.

The world of shipping container zoning laws can seem daunting, but you need to find out about them.

Why?

Because it’s much better to learn about local zoning laws and rules before you buy a container. You don’t want to risk a nosy neighbor reporting you or a local authority discovering you have an “illegal structure” on your property.

Why You Should Learn Shipping Container Zoning Laws

Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution to effortlessly glide through these regulations. But this post is a guide that will help you understand the types of regulations you might encounter and how to navigate them.

If you want to know what to do right now, jump to 5 Steps for Getting Permission for Your Container.

But “Baby, Come Back!”

Why?

First, even if you don’t agree with the rules, you must comply with them or deal with the consequences. So learning the ins and outs of will make it easier to navigate. The more informed you are, the less hassle… and there will be hassle… you’ll have with your project.

Second, this topic is booOOOooring. I spent a lot of time (i.e., I procrastinated) trying to make this a somewhat enjoyable post. So, for my ego’s sake, please come back.

Remember, the goal is to have a safe and legal shipping container you can enjoy without any worries.

Let’s get started.

Can I Put a Shipping Container on My Property?

The short answer is… you guessed it… it depends.

Shipping containers fall under the umbrella of building regulations, which include zoning laws, building codes, and restrictions imposed by other governing bodies in your area.

These regulations are put in place for a good reason, to help protect public safety, preserve public health, maintain property values, and promote the orderly development of a community.

The Types of Regulations You Need to Know

There are 5 types of regulations you need to learn.

Zoning Laws

Cities, towns, and states use zoning laws to plan and regulate how land is used within specific zones or districts. Typical laws control the size, shape, and location of buildings (including containers) and the activities that can take place within them.

Building Codes

Building codes are standards that outline the minimum requirements for the design, construction, safety, and health of buildings and structures. They govern things like structural integrity, fire safety, systems (electrical, plumbing, mechanical), accessibility, and energy efficiency.

Container homes may fall under building codes tailored for alternative housing. These codes ensure that alternative structures meet safety and occupancy standards.

Building Permits

Building permits are the official approvals that allow a property owner or contractor to proceed with a construction project. Permits are the government’s way of regulating construction activities to ensure they meet building codes, zoning regulations, and other local requirements.

Homeowner Association (HOA) Rules

The intent of HOA rules is to maintain the aesthetics, harmony, and well-being of the community. If your property is in a community governed by an HOA, you should comply with their rules and regulations. Non-compliance with HOA rules could result in penalties or fines.

Deed Restrictions

Deed restrictions (or covenants) are legally binding limitations placed on a property’s use and appearance and are recorded in the property’s deed. These restrictions specify limitations or requirements related to the use and appearance of the property.

Deed restrictions are legally enforceable. Other property owners and HOAs can pursue legal action for violations.

How You Want to Use Your Container Determines What Rules to Follow

Remember, shipping containers are just metal boxes designed to transport goods. As built, they may not meet zoning rules and regulations. How you plan to use your shipping container will determine what zoning laws and regulations you have to meet.

There are three typical uses for shipping containers: storage, residential, or commercial use.

Storage

If you’re just using a container for storage, you may be allowed to use one without needing to follow specific rules. But some locations may have requirements.

Typical requirements are:

  • Where you can place a container on your property depending on property lines, buildings, and other structures. These are known as setback requirements.
  • What materials and products you can store and how those materials must be stored.
  • What security measures you must install to prevent unauthorized access or theft.
  • How you will prevent stormwater from accumulating and causing damage.
  • How pretty your container will look and complement your house or the neighborhood.

You also may need a permit and undergo an inspection to make sure you comply with local codes.

Commercial and Residential Use

Any building used for commercial or residential purposes must comply with zoning laws and building codes because they involve people. You must meet minimum standards to ensure their safety. These standards also apply to shipping container structures.

Typical regulations and codes you might have to meet:

  • Aesthetics and design standards
  • Accessibility and safety
  • Setback requirements
  • Stormwater drainage
  • Electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems
  • Egress requirements
  • Occupancy standards

Every location is different, so you need to find out what rules, regulations, and codes your area requires.

5 Basic Steps for Getting Permission for Your Container

Listed below are 5 basic steps for getting permission to put a shipping container on your property. But keep in mind, these steps are only a general guide. Every jurisdiction is different, and there’s no way to know every location’s exact process. As you navigate the process, you’ll flesh out the steps.

Step 1: Find Your Local Zoning, Building or Planning Department

A good place to look up your local office for zoning/building concerns is your city’s or municipality’s official website. Be sure to record their phone number, email address, and location where you can easily find it because you’ll be speaking to them a lot.

Step 2: Contact Your Local Department

Call, email, or visit your local department and tell them that you want to put a shipping container on your property and what you need to do to start the process.

They’ll likely ask for your address (where the container will be located) to check the zoning designation. If the answer is yes, you can put a container on your property, they’ll want to know how you plan to use the container.

Step 3: Ask What Regulations You Need to Meet

Ask what zoning regulations, building codes, and other regulations you need to follow and where to find them. Make sure you at least get acquainted with them. Try to get to know and understand them.

Step 4: Ask If You Need any Permits

Ask if there are any forms you need to fill out, what the fees are, and what supporting documents you need to submit. The type of supporting documents you will be asked to provide will vary by location and your use, but typical documents might be:

  • The property deed to show you own the property or a letter of authorization that gives you permission to make modifications to the property.
  • Site plans showing the dimensions of your property, setbacks, where you plan to put the container, distances from existing structures, and access points or driveways.
  • Building plans if you are modifying the container. The plans should show the modifications, layout, structural changes, and systems that will be installed. You may need to include photos and drawings to help the authorities understand your plans.
  • Proof of liability insurance to cover any potential risks of accidents.

Step 5: Submit Your Application

Make sure you have all the supporting documentation and pay any fees.

The department will review your application and make sure everything complies with the regulations and rules. If approved, you’ll get a permit (if required) that will outline the conditions you must follow.

What to Do If You Don’t Get Approved

If you don’t get approval, ask why and if there is anything you can do to appeal the decision. You may need to reread the regulations and requirements, speak to authorities about any misunderstandings, supply more information, or even seek legal advice.

If your application is denied because of concerns from neighbors or the HOA, speak with them to address their concerns and discuss possible compromises.

Make any needed changes to your application and apply again. Many local authorities are willing to work with you to make your shipping container plans legal. You might need a variance or an amendment to existing zoning regulations. So be nice and respectful.

Consider getting professional help if your container project is complicated and if you’re making significant modifications to the container. Try to find a general contractor or architect who is familiar with shipping containers.

Now You’re Ready to Take on Your Shipping Container Project

As you can see, there’s a lot of planning that goes into putting a shipping container on your property.

Accept that the process will take time.

But equipping yourself with the right information and knowledge will go a long way toward helping you navigate the shipping container zoning laws so you can have a legal container. Make friends with your local planning department and seek help if you need it.

Here’s to navigating the rules as smoothly as possible. You can handle any waves that come your way

Contact Us

At Roadrunner, we’re dedicated to helping you find the perfect container to fit your requirements. We appreciate your consideration and are eager to meet your needs.