Is A Shed Considered A Structure Or An Accessory Building?

When we are constructing different structures on our property, one of the most important things we need to know is the nature of the structure we are building. That’s because the nature of this structure can affect the value of the property and can have legal ramifications.

So, one of the structures that are more commonly built on different types of yards is a shed. But are sheds considered permanent structures or simply accessory buildings?

By legal definition, a shed is considered an accessory structure on a property. However, the shed can also be a permanent structure if you have a shed that was cemented in place and cannot be moved anywhere else on the property. If not, then the shed cannot be considered permanent.

When it comes to different types of structures, it can be difficult to tell whether a certain structure is permanent or an accessory unless you know what the definitions of these types of structures are and how certain structures fall into such definitions.

As such, it is important for us to talk more about what permanent and accessory structures are before we explain why a shed is considered an accessory.

What is a Permanent Structure?

When we say that something is permanent, we are referring to it as something that will last forever.

However, something that is permanent can also be something that won’t last forever but was originally intended to last forever.

There are also things that are permanent regardless of whether they last forever or were intended to last forever but are going to remain unchanged indefinitely.

So, a good example of something that is permanent is a tree. While a tree isn’t going to last forever because trees do have limited lifespans, a tree that is planted on a lot and was intended to last forever is something that is permanent.

Even if the tree wasn’t intended to forever, it can still be considered a permanent structure because a tree will remain relatively unchanged for an indefinite period of time.

Basically speaking, we are defining what the word “permanent” means because this is important for us to assess whether or not some structures on your home can be considered permanent. This is important because there are different valuations for properties that have permanent structures on them.

So, in that regard, what is the definition of a permanent structure when it comes to the law or, at the very least, in the conventional sense of the term?

Legally speaking, a structure is considered permanent if the structure was built to be fixed in place and cannot be moved around the property. In simple terms, as long as the structure was built to stay where it was built, the structure is permanent.

Now, this fits the very definition of what permanent means. That’s because permanent structures are those that were intended to stay in place.

Or, even if they weren’t intended to stay in place, they stay in place for an indefinite period of time precisely because it will be very difficult to move them without doing something that’s so drastic.

A good example of something that can be considered a permanent structure is the house itself. Houses are permanent structures because they were built and designed to stay on the property. This is due to the fact that houses are built to have foundations that are rooted in that property.

So, if you were to remove the house, you would have to do something so drastic such as unearthing all of its foundational structures.

Another example of something that is also a permanent structure is a garage. In most cases, garages are built to be attached to the house in such a way that it shares the same foundations and certain walls. This means that you’d have to break through the shared walls to remove the garage from the entire home, and that nature is what makes it a permanent building.

Meanwhile, there are some jurisdictions that actually have a clear definition of what a permanent structure is.

In the UK, a building that was intended to last for at least ten years of use is considered permanent. Meanwhile, if the building was only intended to last for not more than 28 days even if it may look like it is a permanent structure, it will only be considered a temporary structure.

So, if a building does have some of the bearings of a permanent structure especially when we are talking about its size, it cannot be considered permanent if it is quite easy to move it around the property without too much trouble.

For example, there are some carports that may look like they are permanent garages but are actually movable in the sense that you can easily remove the posts of the carport and relocate the entire structure somewhere else on your property.

The fact that it can be moved around no longer makes it a permanent structure

All that said, the point here is that a structure is permanent if you cannot move it regardless of whether or not it was intended to stay there forever or indefinitely.

Once the structure can be moved without having to go through drastic measures, that is the time when it can no longer be considered permanent.

What is an Accessory Building?

Now that we know what a permanent structure is, let’s get to the definition of an accessory building. And let’s start first with the meaning of the word “accessory” so that it would be easier to define the entire term.

When we talk about something that’s considered an accessory, it should merely be an addition to the principal in such a way that it wouldn’t be able to exist or be useful without the principal. And this applies to any kind of situation.

For example, if we are talking about fashion, the jewelry that we wear are accessory items because they cannot stand without the entire principal structure, which is the outfit.

A tie is also an accessory item to the entire suit. These are things that are all considered accessories because they are basically useless without their principles.

So, when we are now talking about accessory structures, we are talking about buildings that cannot exist or should not be able to do their functions well without the principal, which is the main structure on the property itself.

Legally speaking, a structure is an accessory if it fits the following definition: “a structure which is on the same parcel of property as a principal structure and the use of which is incidental to the use of the principal structure.”

Meanwhile, there are also certain jurisdictions that have guidelines that pertain to accessory structures. Most of them include the following:

  • They must have only at most two plumbing fixtures.
  • In some cities, there are accessory buildings that are allowed to have kitchen facilities.
  • These are usually structures that are built to be open-air such as a patio or a gazebo.
  • Pools and spas are also considered accessories because of certain zoning roles.
  • Accessory structures cannot be air-conditioned.
  • They must be detached from the residential building by at least five to six feet but it can vary depending on where you live and on the city’s zoning ordinances.
  • Most accessory structures are limited to only one story. However, there are some areas that allow accessory buildings to have two stories but cannot exceed 30 feet in height.
  • In most laws, one-story accessory structures should only be 12 to 15 feet high.

The above-mentioned are merely the guidelines that are mostly indicated in zoning laws depending on the jurisdiction of where you live. Here’s an article for more info on legal shed sizes.

However, the point here is that accessory structures are the ones that rely on the principal structure for their purpose or existence in such a way that they cannot practically or legally survive without a principal structure such as a house on the property.

A good example of an accessory structure is a garage. While garages are most likely permanent in nature and are attached to houses in such a way that they don’t seem like accessories, they are still accessory structures because they are built to have a different purpose from the principal and that they are incidental to the use of the principal.

In this case, the house (the principal) is for residential purposes while the garage (the accessory) has a purpose that is incidental to the purpose of the house because it should be used as storage for the car.

Another good example is barns if they are built on residential properties. In most cases, barns that are used to house livestock and are built on agricultural properties can be considered principal structures.

However, if you built the barn on a residential property, then it would now become incidental to the principal structure, which is the house.

The most important thing to consider here is whether or not there is a principal on the property on which the questioned structure is built and whether or not such a structure has a purpose that is merely incidental to that of the purpose of the main structure. 

So, if there were two residential buildings built on the property but both buildings can stand and serve their purposes without the other, then neither can be considered accessories.

However, if one residential structure cannot serve its function without the other such that it doesn’t have all of the necessary marks of what makes a house a house, then it cannot be considered a principal and should be considered only as an accessory.

Example are rooms that were built to be separate from the main house.

Is a Shed a Permanent Structure or an Accessory Building?

So, going by what permanent structures and accessory buildings are, to which of the two does a shed belong? Is a shed a permanent structure or is it an accessory building?

First of all, a shed is an accessory building going by its legal definition. Chapter 3, Section 312 of the International Building Code as “a building or structure of an accessory character; it classifies them under utility and miscellaneous group”.

The very definition indicates that a shed is an accessory in nature. And even if we were to try to fit the nature of a shed to the definition of an accessory building, we would still see why it is an accessory structure.

A shed, in its nature, is usually used to store equipment and tools that are used for various activities such as gardening and home improvement. Because of its nature as a storage unit, it cannot exist or do its function well without the principal. Of course, its purpose is also incidental or accessory to the purpose of the house. Without the house, a shed’s purpose would be rendered useless.

However, even if a shed is an accessory building, it can also be considered a permanent structure. There is nothing that prevents an accessory from being permanent because accessories are not meant to be temporary.

In fact, plenty of accessory buildings are also permanent buildings. For example, a garage is both an accessory and a permanent building.

But the difference here is that the nature of the shed can determine whether or not it is permanent. That’s because there are plenty of different types of sheds.

If you have a wooden shed that is built to be cemented on its base on the property, then its very nature now makes it a permanent building. However, sheds that are made of metal and plastic are actually very easy to move around since you don’t need to attach them to a base on the ground.

So, if you have a wooden shed that is attached to the base of the ground, then it becomes permanent.

However, if you have a metal or plastic shed that is quite easy to move around your property without doing something drastic just to remove it from its place, then it no longer is permanent.

Manny Moore

Getting my hands dirty and building a place that me and my small family love is a driving factor for what I do and how I do it. I want to share what I have learned and practiced so that it is just that much easier for everyone to have another tool in their tool belt. Your home should be a place that you love and feel comfortable in and your backyard should be no different.

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