Purpose: Although, a number of initiatives have been taken after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami to institutionalise disaster risk reduction (DRR), gaps still exist in the Sri Lankan local government sector. Even after ten years, local governments are still struggling to overcome a number of challenges in relation to making resilience in the built environment. DRR has not yet been properly integrated into the local government system and, as a result, poses a significant challenge. Accordingly, the purpose of this paper is to discover the hindrances for local governments in creating disaster resilient built environment within cities and to propose ways of overcoming the identified limitations. Design/methodology/approach: In total, 15 semi-structured interviews were conducted among experts from Sri Lanka who are involved in disaster management, local governments and built environment fields of study. The interviews were conducted with the intention of gaining expert knowledge pertaining to this field of study. The interviews were mainly designed to capture the current practices for instigating DRR initiatives within Sri Lanka, the role of local governments in creating a disaster resilient built environment and the associated challenges, and ways of overcoming such challenges to ensure an effective contribution to city resilience. Findings: Primary data discovered 36 challenges along with some associated sub-challenges. The challenges were categorised under eight main themes: legal framework; lack of adequate tools, techniques and guidelines; human resource constraints; funding constraints; weaknesses in the internal systems and processes; weaknesses in the external systems; community engagement; and other challenges. The paper analyses these challenges in detail and proposes a set of recommendations to overcome the challenges in order to create disaster resilient built environments within cities. Research limitations/implications: The paper provides a descriptive analysis of how the Sri Lankan local government sector could overcome the underpinning challenges of contributing to disaster resilience in the built environment and no comparative studies were conducted with in other tsunami affected regions. Furthermore, the paper analyses partial findings of a broader research, which was aimed at developing a framework to empower local governments in creating a disaster resilient built environment. Originality/value: The paper provides an extensive analysis of the challenges faced by local governments in contributing to the resilience of their built environment and proposes how these challenges could be overcome while making a worthwhile contribution to both theory and practice. Accordingly, the paper recommends major changes in policy and practice with respect to bringing local governments into DRR.