The previous issue of the SME Toolbox covered zoning districts, including how to find your district and its corresponding bylaw. This fourth installment introduces occupancy types within the City of Vancouver—another topic you may encounter when occupying commercial space for your organization, likely when submitting a building permit application.

While zoning bylaws assign allowable uses per geographical location, occupancy types determine the health and life-safety provisions required in the building or unit itself. In Vancouver, they may trigger significant upgrades and can occasionally preclude some uses.

What are Occupancy Types?

An occupancy type represents the categorization of end-user activity in relationship to buildings and spaces in the building code. Practically applied, occupancy types are a way to differentiate the activity typically associated with the diversity of places found in the built environment. Occupancies such as movie theatres, hospitals, residential highrises, dentist offices, corner stores and factories all have distinct space needs related to their end user’s health and safety.

In Vancouver, your occupancy type is assigned either during the building permit or occupancy permit process by the City of Vancouver. In some cases, there may be no issues with an assigned occupancy type. In others, the occupancy type may trigger significant upgrades to a leasehold unit and in some, it may preclude an organization from operating in a leasehold unit at all. That said, the first step in the process is understanding your organization’s likely occupancy type from the City’s point of view.

Occupancy classifications are classified in the Vancouver building code based on the way end-users will likely occupy a space.

Major Occupancy Types

A summary of major occupancy types (as determined by the 2019 Vancouver Building By-law – Table and examples is outlined below:

Class A: Assembly

Assembly types involve various gathering places including many performing arts venues (Class A-1); art galleries, schools, restaurants, community halls, etc. (Class A-2); and indoor recreation facilities (Class A-3).

Class B: Care and Detention

Care and Detention occupancies such as hospitals, assisted living facilities, and rehabilitation centres are either classified as Class B-1 or Class B-2.

Class C: Residential

Residential occupancies (Class C) include apartments, boarding houses, college residences, hotels, and other accommodations.

Class D: Business and Personal Services

Business and Personal Services include offices as a common example. Class D also includes banks, hairdressing shops, small tool/appliance rental businesses, and other establishments.

Class E: Mercantile

Mercantile (Class E) is essentially retail and includes shops, cafes (under 16 seats), markets and supermarkets, exhibition halls, and department stores.

Class F: Industrial

Industrial occupancies such as studios, factories, and manufacturing plants are grouped based on the level of potential hazard. High hazard (Class F-1) occupancies involve a range of activities including waste paper and rubber processing, spray painting, and other operations. Medium Hazard (Class F-2) occupancies include most visual arts studios and commissary kitchens. Meanwhile, parking garages are an example of a Low Hazard (Class F-3) occupancy.

A full list of examples is outlined in Notes to Part 3 of the Vancouver Building Code: http://free.bcpublications.ca/civix/document/id/public/vbbl2019/1484887491 (see Page 2).

Familiarizing yourself with your occupancy type can help you find and occupy the right space for your business. For more tips and advice, see our previous issues of the SME Toolbox Series (linked below) and stay tuned for the next installment!

Links to Resources


This article is Part 4 of our SME Toolbox series. This series is intended for Executive Directors, CEOs & other decision-makers to discover resources for navigating Vancouver’s space and real estate landscape.