The adoption and enforcement of building codes is considered the most effective tool in safeguarding lives and property against earthquakes. There would appear to be a vital regulatory role for government in the enforcement of building codes, but this is somewhat at odds with the neoliberal agenda of ‘rolling back the state’. This paper explores constraints to the implementation of building codes in the context of changing roles and responsibilities of local authorities in Bihar in India. In-depth interviews were conducted with key stakeholders across major urban centres in north Bihar. Some factors, such as: code complexity; competition between the public and private sectors for qualified personnel; and low public risk perception were found to be less significant in Bihar than has been noted elsewhere, while other factors such as: the cost of earthquake-resistant measures; political interests; corrupt practices; and lack of government capacity were important. Additional factors were also revealed by the research, some of which are exacerbated by the neoliberal climate of urban governance. While the recent 2014 byelaws represent an improvement in the system and a degree of re-regulation, ambiguities create opportunities for failures arising from ‘normalised irresponsibility’.