Whether container homes can be placed on your land is highly dependent on their exact location. These rules are defined per country, state and even your local homeowners association (HOA) of the development. Houses are typically placed on plots of land classified under a “residential zone” as determined by the government. However, the definition of what constitutes a house varies, and therefore what is allowed, is relative to the place.
Being a relatively new type of housing like manufactured homes and tiny homes, shipping containers have not been completely standardized by our building laws. This makes it tricky and very contextual on which places will allow you to place your container as a home and which won’t. It’s very much case to case on whether where you’re placing your container home is convinced it’s classified as a house.
On the factors we can control, make sure the 20 foot or 40 foot long container will fit in your lot with the required clearances around it. Also inquire on the structural and utilitarian needs for your site. Afterwards you can start looking into your local laws in zoning restrictions and building codes to get your occupancy permit.
Zoning is the government designating certain land uses to areas. Although your plot of land may be classified as “residential”, tiny homes, container homes and other new, non conventional homes, may have some difficulty in being viewed as a “home.” (1)
What kind of permits would you need? This can be dependent on your country’s rules, your state, deed restrictions and even homeowner association rules. So before buying into a container home, check if these would be allowed on your land or if they will recognize it as a house. A good start would always be to inquire at your local city planning office for your permit requirements. Your architect and engineer should also be knowledgeable on the do’s and don’ts of your site for container homes. These rules can end up being very specific to a certain size or height limit like below: (2, 3)
“For example, in Atlanta, buildings under 750 square feet (70 square meters) are permitted behind a primary residence, but if they have a stove and are intended for long-term tenants, more than 90 days, they are only allowed in certain zoning districts. In any city, container homes must also meet building codes.” (2)
Due to this difficulty, several unexpected costs can drive up the costs of your humble container home: The specialized labor and added materials needed to fit certain requirements of converting the container into a home, the paperwork, and consulting building professionals can end up raising that cost. Be mindful of your budget and the extra costs before deciding to size up the home with an extra container. (3)
Beyond state and federal regulations, your local neighborhood may also have their own rules. Your homeowners association (HOA) has the power to choose whether container homes are allowed on your land or not. They may be tight on the rules, but they primarily retain and safeguard the value and quality of the property. (4)
Deed restrictions, made by your developer keep the uniformity of the area and would need serious legal action (like going to court) to undo. Being rules set by the private sector, they can control even architectural styles, like the material of your front fence or the color of your roof. So it pays to carefully look through the deed restrictions before purchasing a piece of property, or deciding to buy a container home for it. (5)
Although container home construction doesn’t necessarily need any foundations, you’ll need to still check if you’d need to add them to fulfill the state or private sector requirements of converting them into a home. Besides property permits, electrical, plumbing permits would also be needed to certify the utility work done on your home is safe and government regulated.
For a comprehensive list of Municipal, County, State and Federal regulations, with even a list of states best for container homes, check out this piece! Container Home Building Codes & Permits – Discover Containers
Despite being a new home building type, these container homes may soon be integrated into revisions of building codes. With its increasing popularity, more locations and developers are accepting container homes into their land as a house. (5)
- Barber, M. (2020, April 10). Everything you need to know about shipping container homes. Curbed. Retrieved July 2022, from https://archive.curbed.com/2020/4/10/21165288/shipping-container-house-build-cost
- Whitney Ph.D., C. (2019, November 19). The Ultimate Downsize: Living in a shipping container home. HowStuffWorks Science. Retrieved August 2022, from https://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/repurposed-inventions/live-in-shipping-container.htm
- MasterClass. (2021, June 8). Shipping Container Homes: Understanding the pros and cons – 2022. MasterClass. Retrieved August 2022, from https://www.masterclass.com/articles/shipping-container-homes-understanding-the-pros-and-cons#5w5eiW8A2Z6YzMzKBvyMvC
- Crocker, G. (2020, March 20). Can I put a shipping container on my land? Container Stop. Retrieved August 2022, from https://www.containerstop.com/blog/can-i-put-a-shipping-container-on-my-land/
- Discover Containers. (2022, July 13). Container Home Building Codes & Permits. Discover Containers. Retrieved August 2022, from https://www.discovercontainers.com/shipping-container-zoning-permits-and-building-codes-which-states-allow-them/