Legal Requirements for Building a Container Home

Building a permanent home using shipping containers is subject to the same scrutiny as any regular construction project in Australia. If you want sleek, modern housing via container up-cycling, then you ought to learn about legal requirements such as building permits, engineering plans, and inspections before commencing the project.

Rules For Using Shipping Containers on Private Property

You are expected to modify your container into a livable home with actual windows, doors, fixtures, electricity and plumbing. And everything you change about the container needs reinforcing. This means you’re going to have some construction work done and that requires compliance with legal codes.

Local governments each have their own set of policies on repurposing shipping containers into residential buildings. But as a general rule in Australia, you must ‘hide’ the appearance of a shipping container by having them re-designed or re-clad, otherwise hidden away from public view.

For instance, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast Council does not require permits for temporary container structures with a maximum of 30 days’ use in an urban area and up to 90 days in more rural areas.

In Victoria, Cardinia Council requires a permit if you put a container on your own property, while South Gippsland Council does not allow them in any residential area. In New South Wales, the Wollondilly Council went to the Land and Environment Court in 2016 after someone refused to move an “unauthorised” container from their front yard. In north Queensland, Mackay Regional Council threatened people with fines over unapproved containers in a rural area.

Some regions are particular about the maximum number of containers allowed in their area. Port Headland, for example, only allows one container per residential property. In any case, it is perfectly legal to use shipping containers to build a house. But first, you need a nod from your local council.

The Requirements For Building Approval

Your shipping container build project needs to meet these requirements before it gains approval for construction.

1. Structural Integrity

Above everything else, the house you are about to build must be safe and structurally sound for the safety of inhabitants as well as other people. You need to have an architect as well as an engineer draw up plans for a structurally sound building before construction can be approved.

2. Livability

Just like any other home, your shipping container home needs to have all the basic features to be livable. Plumbing and ventilation are a must and different jurisdictions will have their own little additions to the definition of a livable modern dwelling.

3. Zoning Laws

Your shipping container home needs to comply with local zoning laws or you’ll have trouble convincing your council to sign off on your project. For example, some areas prohibit the construction of multi-storey buildings, while others require houses to be built with specific fireproof materials for areas that are prone to bush fires. Whatever the laws of the land are, you will need to follow them.

4. Aesthetics

Some areas enforce strict aesthetic standards because no one wants eyesores ruining their nice neighbourhood. Thankfully, shipping container home designs are now just as sophisticated as modern-style homes. Your shipping container house will either need to blend in with the surroundings or be an outstanding architectural masterpiece if you want it approved.

Become A Container Home Owner-Builder

If you are thinking about building a new home, an annex, granny shed, or garage by repurposing shipping containers on your own property, here are the steps you need to take –

STEP 1 – Complete An Owner-Builder Training Course Online

The 10274NAT Course in Preparation for Owner Builder Permit (QLD Owner Builder Course) is the mandatory course that all individuals must complete to become eligible to apply for a permit (unless an exemption applies). Register and get certified at

STEP 2 – Apply For An Owner Builder Permit

This is done with the relevant state-based building council listed below. Fill out the application form with all supporting documents, including the signed completion of your Owner Builder Course. You will be required to pay an application fee to start the process which usually takes around 4 weeks.

STEP 3 – Learn About Your Responsibilities

There are many limits to what you can do even with an Owner-Builder Permit, and certainly some of the disadvantages of going it alone. It’s important to know that the Owner-Builder Permit does not allow you to engage in occupational work such as plumbing and draining, fire protection, or building and renovating multiple dwellings.

STEP 4 – Engage The Pros And Skip The Hassle

Although building shipping container homes is less complicated than traditional construction projects, the same legal processes and requirements still apply. Navigating through council building approvals can be frustrating and time-consuming for first-time home builders.

Let our professional team help you sort the paperwork to get your container home project off the ground and done in no time!
Read more articles