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Storage shed or shipping container? B.C. Supreme Court settles long-running bylaw dispute

A shipping container with a window in it is shown in this stock photo. (Image credit: Shutterstock) A shipping container with a window in it is shown in this stock photo. (Image credit: Shutterstock)
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A long-running dispute over whether a structure on a Surrey property violates a city bylaw that prohibits shipping containers on residential lots has been settled by the B.C. Supreme Court

Justice Geoffrey Gomery's ruling was posted online Tuesday.

"This matter has been pending for a long time. It needs to be resolved," the judge said in the decision, which was handed down in February.

The City of Surrey was seeking an injunction that would order the structure to be removed. The city first asked the property owners, Praveen Kaur Koonar and Jaswinder Singh Koonar to remove the structure in April of 2022. After granting a series of extensions of the deadline for its removal, a petition was filed with the court in November of 2023, the judgment says.

A municipal bylaw, the court heard, explicitly states that shipping containers are only allowed in industrial zones with an exception for residential properties only in cases where one is "necessary and accessory to construction in progress and such construction is the subject of a current and valid building permit."

In court, the property owners conceded that no construction has been in progress on their property but argued that they should be allowed to keep the structure because it was actually a "storage shed."

Accordingly, the central question Gomery had to answer was whether the structure itself was prohibited by the bylaw.

"The structure that we are concerned with, is either a shipping container or it is not," he wrote.

In making his decision, the judge described photos of the structure.

"It looks like a shipping container. It has language on the side including the statement of caution 'nine foot six-inch-high container.' It has serial numbers, an indication of its cubic capacity, the weight of goods that it can hold, and so on. These are all consistent with the appearance of the thing as a shipping container," he wrote.

But he also noted that it has a door and windows, which the Koonars argued made it unusable as a shipping container. In addition, they argued that it was a shed because they were using it for storage and not for transporting goods.

Gomery disagreed.

"I think the submission is untenable. It would permit any shipping container to be placed on property and cease to become a shipping container as soon as it was used for some purposes other than the immediate shipment of goods and I cannot imagine that is what the bylaw intends," he wrote.

"Underlying the bylaw is the thought that shipping containers, by their appearance, not necessarily their use, are inconsistent with the residential character of homes in Surrey," Gomery's decision also said.

The city's request for an injunction was granted and the property owners were given 30 days to comply with the bylaw by removing the structure.

In a transcript of the exchange in court following the decision, Gomery explained to the Koonars what, precisely, the order means.

"The order does not prevent you from having a storage shed, but you cannot have a storage shed that is a shipping container. It will have to be some other kind of storage shed," he said.

The Koonars were also ordered to pay the City of Surrey $1,000 in costs.

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