Building Canadian Self-Storage: Overcoming Red Tape and Politics

Building self-storage in Canada can involve navigating a maze of red tape and political subterfuge. By working with trained professionals and knowing municipal requirements in advance, a developer can minimize time and money spent.

The residential and commercial construction market for new buildings is suffering as result of the economy, but does the task of constructing a self-storage facility change when times are challenging? Canada needs growth industries for revival, and self-storage is a business for which need grows as people downsize their homes and offices. In addition, efficiencies created by increased availability of skilled labor and less expensive materials should make projects more cost-effective.

As a result, we should see increased activity in new self-storage construction this year. But without proper planning and a knowledgeable development team, dealing with municipalities could cost facility owners time and money. 

The Politics of New Business

City governments want increased business activity and higher revenue now more than ever. There are politicians thrashing around with public statements decreeing they are ready, willing and able to grow new business, but they don’t really understand what they have to do to make it happen. We read news articles in which they say their town or city is open for business, with the welcome mat at the ready. But what does that mean?

Does it mean the municipalities are prepared to be more flexible when applying the regulations and bylaws for new business? So far, we can readily see this is not the case. I suspect the intent is to offer some hint of incentive but, in reality, while they need and want more revenue in the community, they have created no inducement to seed business growth.

The politicians are leading the charge with lip service, but they have neither passed bills nor modified rules to minimize the challenges of red tape. They have not made it possible for their staff, which has to work within the standing bylaws and planning regulations, to match their words and enable new business. This type of mixed messaging will not only cause the self-storage owner/developer to feel confusion and frustration with departmental personnel, it will end up costing him time and money.

Be Prepared

Meanwhile, if you want to build a new self-storage facility, be up and running, creating cash flow, within three to six months. What can you do? The path to development is filled with hidden rules and obstacles, and the best thing you can do is be prepared.

Consider the various authorities at the municipal and provincial level and the subsequent building codes and planning regulations they have been charged to enforce. To navigate the quagmire, you need to hire a construction team knowledgeable in municipal code, zoning and planning rules. Professionals will be best equipped to anticipate local requirements as you choose and acquire property and prepare to seek building permits. These people can anticipate municipal requirements, ask the right questions, do the due diligence with early planning, and answer all city requirements and potential objections in a timely fashion.

That said, there are some municipalities in which even the most knowledgeable team will find it difficult to make progress. Sometimes, even when you follow all of the rules, you’ll encounter officials who put the brakes on a project at a whim. These situations can be negotiated further with planning representatives and local politicians, sometimes using legal representation. But they will cost time and, usually, some sort of deal will need to be made that will also cost money.

In short, even when you have the right team in place and are aware of all normal requirements, there can be unforeseeable pitfalls to face. Overcoming them can bring a sense of exhilaration that will mitigate the pain, but it may not balance the additional cost.

Time delays aside, if you are fully aware of all municipal requirements in advance, building your project in accordance with local codes and regulation should not cost you any more than normal. It’s only when you encounter uncooperative officials or fail to prepare that you can end up costing yourself unnecessary time and money.

David Hornblow is the construction manager for Ontario, Canada-based Canadian Metal Manufacturing Inc. (CMMI), a developer of turnkey self-storage systems. Established in 1999 as a metal-fabricating company, CMMI has been working in the self-storage industry since 2003. For more information, call 888.951.1762; visit

Related Articles:

The Future of Canadian Self-Storage  

Development Basics for First-Time Self-Storage Builders in Canada

Canadian Self-Storage: Developers Realize the Prize

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