Sat, Jul

Container Conundrum: Los Angeles' Unusual Stance on Storage Solutions


LA CODES - Building code violations are everywhere in the City of Angels.  Yards filled with rusty old cars, trailers, dead RVs, you name it—you don’t have to go far to find them. Seems like there’s that “one neighbor” in every neighborhood that clearly violates building and safety codes and gets away with it—even with multiple citations and complaints. Violations that clearly are a hazard should result in citations, fees, and forced cleanup, but not every violation is created equal.

That brings us to storage solutions. Most people use their garage, attic, and/or storage shed. But what exactly constitutes a storage shed? Is it a boxy-looking thing from Home Depot? Or a cute little wooden one that has fake windows? Or one of those intense-looking metal ones that can hold a 2-story dinosaur robot?

Although it is superior to a typical storage shed on multiple levels, one thing that the City does not consider a storage shed is a cargo shipping container (“container”). Scores of properties in the northeast San Fernando Valley use them as tack rooms for their horses or just for incidental storage. They are great! Except, they are illegal if you happen to put one in your yard—and it doesn’t matter if it’s in your backyard where no one can see it. I should qualify that—if you have a vindictive neighbor that can see it and reports you, then your container must be removed.

Traditional storage sheds run from less than 36 square feet to over 550 square feet.  Some are rated for wind resistance and can be made from wood, plastic, and/or metal.  The larger ones require a foundation and most have a traditional slanted roof that can be damaged by the elements. (During a windstorm a couple of decades ago, our typical metal storage shed was blown off its foundation and the roof was severely damaged.) The City allows these flimsy storage sheds and those up to 120 square feet do not need a permit.

Now, containers come in standard 100 square feet (10 feet long), 200 square feet (20 feet long), and 800 (40 feet long) square feet sizes. So, the smaller ones are comparable in square feet, but the City does not allow these IF they are placed on the same parcel as a residence.  In other words, you cannot put one in your own backyard or anywhere on your property.

What’s bizarre is the Los Angeles City Municipal Code doesn’t specifically address containers for incidental storage—instead, it’s in a “bulletin.” So if you were looking for direction in the LAMC, you won’t find it.  This elusive “bulletin” states cargo containers are considered “equipment” and not a “building.” Yet the LAMC referenced on a citation letter refers to structures and buildings.

Why should the City allow (actually ENCOURAGE) residents, within reason of course (i.e., not visible from the street, be clean, etc.), to use an inherently rugged, durable container for storage? Here is why:

  • Containers are fire proof and ember proof (sheds are not).
  • Containers are vermin proof (sheds are not).
  • Containers are wind proof (sheds are not).
  • Containers are burglar proof (sheds are not).
  • Containers are transportable (sheds are not).
  • Containers are termite proof (wooden sheds are not).
  • Containers have built in roofs (sheds do not)
  • Containers have built in foundations (sheds may not)
  • Containers are water proof (sheds are not).

Don’t worry if you already have a container—you won’t be cited and forced to remove it UNLESS of course you have a nasty neighbor. If Mr. Jones has a nice neighbor, he gets to keep his. If Mr. Smith has a nasty neighbor, he must get rid of it.

I suppose one could convert their container into an ADU and then use it for storage.  The kitchen counter would provide a dandy space.

In any event, I feel that the City must amend its ordinance and allow folks to use containers for incidental storage even if they are on the same lot with a residence, as long as they are not visible from the street, allow proper clearance, and are in good condition—oh, and charge a permit fee. The County of Los Angeles allows them so I guess they’re a bit more progressive.

Really, what’s the harm?

(Cindy Bloom, M.B.A. (retired from the entertainment industry and the Financial Services Department/Budget, City of Burbank) is Immediate Past President of Shadow Hills Property Owners Association, on the Board of the Foothill Trails District Neighborhood Council, and a founder and member of Save Angeles Forest for Everyone.  She has been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Daily Journal, CityWatchLA, and the Daily News.  The content of this Op-Ed are submitted by her as an individual and not on behalf of her associations or organizations.)