Relocating communities out of increasingly risk-prone areas is effective for adapting to climate change. Relocations are particularly relevant for small island regions, where sea-level-rise-induced retreat from the coast will be inevitable for some communities. However, relocations are contested because communities are generally reluctant to move, and decision-makers face high political risks. As ... [Show full abstract] a consequence, relocations mostly occur after extreme events. In such situations, existing rules can be undermined by politics and power, driving relocation policy and resulting in varying relocation outcomes. However, these political and policy dimensions of post-disaster relocations have received little attention. Here, we study the politics and power dynamics of two post-tsunami relocations in the Maldives. Using process tracing, we find that vested interests, rather than adaptation considerations, explain varying relocation outcomes. Our findings highlight the complex power structures inherent in post-disaster relocations, which explain why similar events and drivers did not produce similar outcomes.