Landlords who seized and held their tenant's belongings for years because she was behind in the rent have been stung with $6000 in fines.

Masterton couple Dr Robert Maunsell and Susan Munro rented a unit on their property to tenant Vickie Martin in 2014, but fell out with her early the next year over unpaid rent.

Taking their chance when Martin was out one day, they emptied the unit - and told her she could only collect her property when she paid the rent she owed, a Tenancy Tribunal decision says.

Martin accepted she owed rent but disputed the amount the couple were asking for and told them they were not allowed to seize tenant's property.

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"The impasse lasted some years, with Ms Martin remaining deprived of her possessions," the Tenancy Tribunal adjudicator said.

"Eventually, Ms Martin filed a claim seeking the return of her goods, only to discover most had been destroyed in a flood at the landlords' property."

The adjudicator said landlords were not allowed to seize or dispose of a tenant's belongings, or retake possession of a rental, without first applying for permission from the Tenancy Tribunal.

Letters and texts showed Maunsell and Munro did this without the tribunal's permission.

"The letters and texts between the parties at the time demonstrated a clear strategy to deprive Ms Martin of her goods, and a threat to sell them, or give them to the Salvation Army," the adjudicator said.

"The landlords also failed to take care of the goods, or to make a proper record of what was stored and were unable to return much of what was seized and maintained their
position for years. Much of what was returned was damaged."

The adjudicator ordered the landlords to pay Martin $1500 in exemplary damages for taking her belongings and $450 compensation for retaking possession of her unit.

Maunsell and Munro were also ordered to pay $4110 compensation for losing or damaging a range of Martin's belongings, including a table, chest of drawers, photos, clothes, kitchen items, a family tree and more.

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"It is accepted that a number of belongings were lost that had significant sentimental value," the adjudicator said.

"Ms Martin also spoke of the psychological impact of the manner in which she was treated, and it was clear that the seizure of her goods had left her feeling compromised, belittled and undermined."

However from the $6060 Martin was awarded in compensation, she was also ordered to pay $1350 to Maunsell and Munro for the unpaid rent.