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When is a shipping container not a shipping container?

HAMILTON, ON – When is a shipping container not a shipping container? When it becomes a building structure, that’s when. The answer to this question falls under the defined term, “building” in the Ontario Building Code Act. In essence, a shipping container becomes a building, requiring a Building Permit, if it occupies an area greater than 10 square metres consisting of a wall, roof and floor or any combination thereof. Other factors may include smaller shipping containers which contain plumbing.

In December of 2019, convictions were registered against the owner of a property on Hamilton’s East Mountain, at 62 Upper Centennial Parkway. This was for the construction and placement of shipping containers without Building Permits and ultimately failing to comply with Orders issued by the City of Hamilton Building Division. The fines imposed added up to $5,700, in addition to court costs and surcharges.

This matter was initially brought to the attention of the City of Hamilton’s Building Division in June of 2017, resulting in an Order to Comply to obtain the required Building Permits and subsequent charges under the Provincial Offences Act. In response, the owners of the property filed an application with the Building Code Commission; however they were denied their appeal. Although the decision was initially made by the Justice of the Peace to withdraw the charges, an appeal was sought by the City of Hamilton’s Prosecution Office. Ultimately, the earlier decision was over-turned and convictions were registered against the owners of the property.

In Honour Justice Agro’s decision, case law was used to guide the decision. In the decision, the Justice commented that with respect to the definition of “building”, it was deemed that the shipping containers met the definition as they had walls, roofs and floors exceeding the size requirements as stipulated in the Building Code Act.

The City will continue to monitor the site to ensure compliance is achieved as the shipping containers remain on site. If there is a failure to satisfy the requirements of the outstanding Order to Comply, subsequent charges and further penalties may be applied.

“The prime concern of the City of Hamilton is to preserve the health and safety of our citizens through the application of uniform building standards. We do this through dedicated work by staff who diligently enforce the Ontario Building Code. This Code establishes detailed technical and administrative requirements and minimum standards for building construction. It promotes public health and safety, fire protection, resource conservation, environmental integrity and accessibility.” - John Lane, Manager of Building Inspections