"SINCE COVID-19 MANY AMERICANS FELL BEHIND IN ALL ASPECTS," reads the website copy. The button below this statement is not for a GoFundMe, or a petition for calling for rent relief. Instead, it is the following call to action, from a company called Civvl: "Be hired as eviction crew."
During a time of great economic and general hardship, Civvl aims to be, essentially, Uber, but for evicting people. Seizing on a pandemic-driven nosedive in employment and huge uptick in number-of-people-who-can't-pay-their-rent, Civvl aims to make it easy for landlords to hire process servers and eviction agents as gig workers.
Helena Duncan, a Chicago-based paralegal who also participates in housing activism, saw a Craigslist post from Civvl while searching for jobs. The ad alarmed her.
"It's fucked up that there will be struggling working-class people who will be drawn to gigs like furniture-hauling or process-serving for a company like Civvl, evicting fellow working-class people from their homes so they themselves can make rent," she told Motherboard.
In its Craigslist ads, posted across the country, Civvl explains the opportunity plainly:
"There is plenty of work due to the dismal economy."
"Unemployment is at a record high and many cannot or simply are not paying rent and mortgages," the ads state. "We are being contracted by frustrated property owners and banks to secure foreclosed residential properties."
Civvl aims to marry the gig economy with the devastation of a pandemic, complete with signature gig startup language like "be your own boss," and "flexible hours," and "looking for self-motivated individuals with positive attitudes:" "FASTEST GROWING MONEY MAKING GIG DUE TO COVID-19," its website says. "Literally thousands of process servers are needed in the coming months due courts being backed up in judgements that needs to be served to defendants."
The website also featured a quote, attributed to The New York Times: "Too many people stopped paying rent and mortgages thinking they would not be evicted." A search reveals this phrase hasn't appeared in the Times. The company did not respond to requests for comment or a source for this quote, but the mention of the Times has since disappeared from its website.
The company, at first glance, appears to be some kind of _Nathan For You-_esque prank: siccing precarious gig jobs onto vulnerable people. But Civvl is connected to a larger—and real—gig economy company called OnQall, which describes itself as an app that provides "on-demand task services to non-urban communities beyond main city areas." OnQall is the developer behind other, more believable TaskRabbit-esque apps, like LawnFixr, CleanQwik, and MoveQwik. Given the fact that Civvl is advertising all over the country and that OnQall, though not popular, does exist, it seems as though Civvl actually is an attempt to simplify the process of evicting people who cannot pay their rent during a pandemic.
There is a federal ban on evictions, declared by the CDC, but landlords are still attempting to press on. There is a penalty for violating the ban, which can include a combination of fines and jail time. Civvl did not respond to a question about how the company ensures evictions are legal, though based on the Terms of Service, it appears to pass all risk onto the companies using its platform, stating that it simply "provides lead generation to independent contractors," and does not actually carry out the work itself.
A recent CNN report showed the heartbreaking reality of working in evictions. Francisco Muñez, a mover for a landlord in Houston, cries as he empties an elderly woman's apartment. "Maybe today it's her. Tomorrow it's me," he told the reporter.
"Legal court evictions are on hold," Javier Ruiz, a counselor on the Tenants' Rights hotline for MTO, told VICE. "But most of these management companies, they're not necessarily evicting people through courts. They're just evicting people through pressure. So that's why I see a company like [Civvl] would be coming in."
I have no doubt that lots of people will sign up for doing this because so many are one step away from being evicted themselves and will do whatever it takes to not be. This is why it was clever of the site to misquote the NYT. I see comments like that quite frequently on my local boards.
And of course the people behind this company will take no risk of moving someone out illegally. Oh no that risk belongs to the lucky person who doesn’t read the fine print at the bottom.
This is hideous beyond comprehension and it falls squarely on congress for not giving people relief. Pelosi went from telling us to Calm Down to offering prayers to those being evicted or starving and to those responsible for them doing it. Buy a f’cking mirror, Nancy and look into it!