Are Shipping Container Homes Legal in California

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Container homes are expected to rise from $44,000 in 2018 to over $73,000 by 2025 in market share. That's about $4,300 every year, a CAGR of 6% in under seven years. Cargotechture has grown over the years as more and more people become interested in these building blocks.

As the use of storage containers becomes widespread in the USA, many states and counties have taken up laws, codes, and building permits to regulate the use of land. More so, multiple regulating committees have taken up the task to guide citizens and residents on the necessary legalities of having a container home.

In this article, we shall have a look at the requirements needed to own or use a container home in the State of California, specifically Los Angeles.

Are Container Homes Legal in California?

Yes. As long as the construction falls within the building codes and zoning requirements, one can legally modify shipping containers into residential units.

California is one of the most expensive and urbanized states in the entire country, however. They have stringent land laws, and they occupy one of the pristine sides surrounding the waters. They have unique progressiveness, as seen in their real estate industry, which makes it the best state to set up your California shipping container home.

From hybrid containers to commercial spaces, California has more liberal ideas for shipping containers, just as long as it's within the law. For less regulated zones, the inland and north coast would be the perfect fit.

That being said, it's vital to know that some areas may have more coding and zoning laws compared to other areas. Whether it's still in Los Angeles, Boston, or Texas, the legal requirements stipulated by the regulating entities may have adverse effects in your construction, including the amount you spend to acquire the land.

Property Zoning

This is an essential segment of this article as it features the necessary zoning requirements. For every project you aspire to present to the authorities, you need to have the real facts and a detailed plan on the residential or commercial unit you intend to set up.

Similar to other housing projects such as rental property, flats, apartments, bungalows, mansions, and other forms of real estate, container homes have the same regulations. You have to determine if you want a single residential unit, a duplex, or something more unique.

Below is a look at some of the common types of zoning codes:

  • R-1: This is a Single-Unit Residential Zoning District code. It applies to construction for single family residential units that may not and will not include various features such as cooperative housing. They are located in a single legal lot.
  • R-2: A Two-Unit Residential Zoning District code. The R-2 Zoning District is intended to provide for areas appropriate for a maximum of two residential dwelling units. Also known as duplexes. They are also located on a single legal lot.
  • RM: A Multiple Residential Zoning District code. The RM Zoning District is intended to offer multiple residential units either in a detached or attached format.

For those who may not have a clue about what zoning is or entails, I advise you to take a quick look here for a comprehensive and detailed guide into zoning and the laws that govern it.

What Are the Building Codes and Permits in California?

Even with storage container homes, building codes have to adhere to to ensure the safety and proper standards are followed to the latter. By definition, building codes are the stipulated constriction standards that apply for specific building structures. Permits, on the other hand, are compliance records one should present to regulating entities so that they can approve or deny your prospective construction project.

For the State of California, the building codes are withdrawn from the International Code Counsel’s International Residential Code (IRC) and International Building Code (IBC). Due to the ever-changing conditions in the real estate industry, these codes are reviewed and updated annually to accommodate these changes.

Apart from the two above coding bodies; IBC and IRC, there are other codes that play supplementary to these main two. They include plumbing codes by the International Plumbing Code, mechanical engineering by the International Mechanical Code. There's also electrical wiring by the National Electric Code, and safety from hazards by the National Fire Protection Association standards.

If you wish to know which codes and building permits apply to your California container home, you can head online and search for the "construct connect building code tool." It will stipulate for you all the required codes you have to follow so that your permit will be approved by authorized personnel. Alternatively, you can follow this link and check out this book on some of the significant changes that have been made to the California Building Codes.

You could also go to and have a look at the zoning district codes, building requirements, and permits to have according to your project. In this case, you will be looking under the R1 or R2 for either single or duplex building requirements.

It's important to note that some states have clearly stated permit requirements, while others have more defined and technical needs. The State of California may have more intense codes to adhere to, including materials used, but they do allow for unique designing.

Who Are the Regulating Entities?

There are several regulating entities depending on your area of residence. A specific region could have a variable level of jurisdiction compared to another. As for California, the hierarchical system has four distinct entities arranged from the lowest to the highest in power.

1. Municipal Government Regulation

This entity deals with town and city issues. Any areas within its borders have to seek approval and permission from the city annex, which is like a town hall. All matters on small area building codes have to be overseen by this committee, especially if it's an R1 code in a rural area.

Land leasing and buying have to be overseen by the municipality to ascertain the value as well as other land matters. Many building codes will be approved at this level unless you want to build something that accommodates many. If so, you need to consult the next in the hierarchy.

2. County Government Regulation

The decentralized version of the national government with its leader who oversees the count matters, including land and urban development. All properties that lie outside the city lines will have to seek their building permits from the county government.

For various states, the county may be referred to as the sub-region. So check to see who has more power from the municipal to whom you can get your permits checked.

3. State Government Regulation

Unless there are national disaster codes to be overseen, the state will not have jurisdiction in checking the building permits. Standard codes can be like the earthquake regulations or lighting strike regulations under the safety hazard in the state of California

State organizations have significant roles to play besides approving or denying building permits for your storage container home.

4. Federal Government Regulation

As for the federal government, stipulated under the HUD code, their only mandate will be to oversee permits on manufactured homes that are to be readily placed somewhere in the state. They are the sole governing body that takes on this duty.

This is because manufactured homes are highly mobile; hence, they can't be assigned one state to oversee the construction and modification. So the moving from state to state and across borders needs a bigger and more powerful entity to check its building permits.

Reading about these regulating bodies, you can now head to their offices and seek approval. If you are within the city, you can visit the municipal and get all done under one go.

What Container Home Items Are Commonly Regulated?

Another primary concern for container homeowners is what exactly is being regulated for these types of cargotecture homes. Well, certain variables need to be standardized to ensure the project is successful and as per the law.

Here's a look into what items are put under scrutiny by the regulating entities.

  • Outlook: The appearance is not just about the metal storage container like appearance; it's more about what builds the entire building. From the distinct coloring, shape, and style, materials used in the modification, insulation products used, as well as other additional accessories.
  • Accessibility: From the intact shipping container into a sophisticated California shipping container home, there has to be access into and out for all kinds of people—disabled or not.
  • Size and Shape: The shape is given; rectangular, but the volume has to be a certain square footage and height to fit specific bedrooms for all applicants.
  • Modification Specifications: This includes mechanical engineering, electrical wiring, plumbing for water, designs, and installations.
  • Base: There is the option of a concrete base for foundation and protection from calamities.
  • Site Offsets: The distance between adjacent structures in case of any disasters.
  • Hazard Protection: Aid against fire and smoke inhalation or damage.
  • Eco-Friendliness: Materials used shouldn't pose a danger to the neighbors or pollute the environment in any way.
  • Egress: This is the interior and exterior airways along with passageways available in the storage container: windows, doors, or a fire escape.
  • Structure Compliance: Does the building have the structural integrity to support all that's within the storage container home?

All these and more permit specifications are seen from the link above. You can also do further research to see what new or updated requirements are needed to modify the storage container into homes.

Cheap House Plans Using Shipping Containers

Are There Additional Building Codes for Container Homes in California?

For many of you, shipping container homes may refer to a home in a box. But, some codes tend to criss-cross each other; hence, you may be left unable to determine your building codes and regulations fully.

As of late 1976, the mobile home took up another name; manufactured homes to mean fabricated homes on a permanent trailer chassis. These prefabricated structures had to apply similar building standards with the RV, recreational vehicles, and modular homes.

If you're looking to get your home fabricated from a factory, you need to consult with the federal government to advise you on the way forward. They will inform you about all that's required as covered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards.

This HUD code governs the national entity on the shipping rules and regulations, as well as the permits you will need for your California storage container home.

Another essential part of mobile container homes is the Recreational Vehicle (RV). You wouldn't imagine how many people reside in these places. What most people don't know is that to can live in an RV legally, but you have to lie within the manufactured homes federal law under the RV Industry Association’s (RVIA) Standards.

As of January 2019, storage home containers will have their regulations to be followed, separate from the modular RVs. The HUD code will guide you as to which rules and regulations to follow to be on the right side of the law.

Final Thoughts

Numerous states in the USA enjoy land freedom in the sense of construction abilities. As for California, there are many regulations to follow and adhere to, which otherwise could cause you legal problems. Their jurisdiction is detailed and strict to ensure everyone is following the law to the latter.

Luckily for you, this article has aided you in understanding some of the crucial elements of the legality of shipping container homes in the state of California. You have read about the codes that will apply, governing bodies, as well as what areas of your project will be scrutinized.

So ensure you thoroughly go through the building permits before you proceed to seek approval. One last thing, California is a costly state, always find the cheaper option with fewer permits and fewer expenses.

© 2019 Alexander Okelo

Alexander Okelo (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on July 21, 2020:

Hi, Teresa. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. Yeah, California can be a little bit tough on their building codes and regulations

Teresa I Clark on July 14, 2020:

We have been told flat out that container homes will NOT be approved in LA County through the Planning Department located in Santa Clarita, CA. Would even talk to us about it. NOT ALLOWED! at all, plus we were told the house must look like certain designs only to "blend in" with the rest of the homes. We are talking 5 acres in "horsey" country. Very draconian attitude, hates to talk to a owner/builder, only wants to work with "professionals". It is like they have their own little kingdom and then who do you complain to? I recommend NOT building in CA. Thinking about going back to another state.

Alexander Okelo (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on October 28, 2019:

Hi, The Real David Pressler, thanks for stopping by. Container homes are quite sturdy -- tornado/hurricane/fire/flood-proof -- and can be built as underground structures/bunkers too.

The Real David Pressler from Planet Earth on October 28, 2019:

FAD stuff if not tornado / hurricane / fire / flood proof forget about it. Next evolution in construction bunker homes NO homeowners insurance!

Watch the video: Building a Shipping Container Home. EP01Permits and Foundation Design


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