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Judge tells Surrey residents to remove shipping container from property

Shipping container or storage shed? Judge disagrees with residents
A case involving a Surrey property where residents were using a shipping container as a storage shed was heard in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. The residents have been ordered to remove the container. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

As they say, one person’s storage shed is another person’s shipping container.

In this case, a B.C. Supreme Court judge decided that the structure on Praveen Kaur Koonar and Jaswinder Singh Koonar’s Surrey property is a shipping container and gave them 30 days to remove it, as per a City of Surrey zoning bylaw.

The City of Surrey took the Koonars to court, with Justice Geoffrey Gomery presiding in New Westminster, seeking an injunction to remove the unit from their property and that similar containers not replace it.

“I am simply ordering you to comply with the bylaw,” he told them. “The bylaw says you may not have a shipping container. The order will provide that you may not have a shipping container. 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.”

The court heard Ms. Koonar owns the residential property on 116 Street and Mr. Koonar operates a business there. Where they live is zoned for single family residential use.

According to City of Surrey regulations, Gomery noted in his reasons for judgment, a shipping container “shall only be used, placed, stored, repaired, cleaned, upgraded, or modified on a lot in an industrial zone, and in such cases the shipping container must comply with the requirements of the zone as if it were a building or structure.

“Where … a shipping container is necessary and accessory to construction in progress and such construction is the subject of a current and valid building permit, the shipping container will be permitted.”

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The bylaw defines a shipping container as an enclosed unit “used or intended to be used for storing and transporting goods via ship, rail or truck, whether or not it is actually being used for such a purpose.”

The Koonars maintained it’s not a shipping container but a storage shed.

“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, other than homes that are currently under construction or undergoing construction,” Gomery noted. “There is no question in this case that the container is necessary and an accessory to construction. There is no construction in place at the Koonars’ house. The shipping container, the structure that we are concerned with, is either a shipping container or it is not.”

Referencing photographs of the structure, the judge observed, “it looks like a shipping container. It has, at least in July of last year, it had, 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. It is made of metal, rectangular, and has two doors that open at one end exposing the entire end and permitting entrance and access through the entire back end as it were.”

Differentiating it from most, if not all, shipping containers, the judge noted, is a door and three windows cut into its side. “Mr. Koonar says that he has never seen a shipping container in use as a shipping container that had a door and windows installed in this way. Mr. Koonar says that he has been using the shipping container as a storage shed, that he bought it for use as a storage shed, and he has never used it for any other purpose,” Gomery noted.

However, Gomery decided it’s “clear that the structure was originally manufactured as a shipping container because it contains printing on the end which is only consistent with its use as a shipping container.

“In my view, the structure is a shipping container within the meaning of the bylaw. It has the appearance of a shipping container, which is what the bylaw is really concerned with. It was manufactured as a shipping container. It is serving one of the purposes of a shipping container, that is, as a storage unit by the Koonars for their children’s stuff.”

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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