As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the United States, 22 million people are without work and many more are working at reduced hours without additional pay. The economic toll has resulted in as many as 40 million Americans being left at risk of eviction, with minimal support available to those who may be forced from their homes. Most see this as a tragedy. Others, like the operators of the on-demand eviction service Civvl, apparently see it as a money-making opportunity.
Civvl is perhaps the logical conclusion of the gig economy operating in a dystopian late-stage capitalism hellscape. The platform connects landlords, banks, and property owners to an army of independent contractors who are willing to carry out the processes of an eviction. Per the company's website, that includes serving eviction papers to residents, posting notices of evictions on people's homes, serving as security at evicted residences, and clearing out the belongings of the evicted. Think of it as a one-stop-shop for all your eviction needs.
The company, which appears to be just a few months old, according to the Better Business Bureau’s records, has been advertising on Craigslist to attract workers. One ad, posted in St. Louis, promises payment of up to $125 per hour, with assurances of getting gigs in less than one week, an attractive promise to those millions of people currently looking for any form of employment to avoid falling behind on rent and facing eviction themselves.
Civvl is not particularly shy about the fact that it is profiting off the misery of others. "Unemployment is at a record high and many cannot or simply are not paying rent and mortgages," the company explains in an advertisement to prospective workers. "We are being contracted by frustrated property owners and banks to secure foreclosed residential properties. There is plenty of work due to the dismal economy." This type of language also exists on the company's website, where it acknowledges, "Since Covid-19 many Americans fell behind in all aspects," before stating, "Too many people stopped paying rent and mortgages thinking they would not be evicted."
While many states and municipalities did suspend evictions as the coronavirus pandemic started to take hold, many of those protections have since been lifted. Federal protections have been put in place to provide a moratorium on evictions, but won't forgive missed payments and will simply postpone them until January 1. There is plenty of evidence that many Americans are unable to pay rent as a result of lost jobs or having their hours reduced, but there is next to no evidence to support the idea that Civvl seems to be floating — that millions of people simply decided not to pay even though they could.
When Mic reached out to the listed contact email for Civvl, a person who identified themselves as Miki Nakajima responded. "Civvl is just a tool for frustrated property owners to find on-demand help to clean out their already vacated properties. Nothing more. Nothing less," they said. Nakajima, who said they were a member of the Civvl onboarding team, continued, "We are accumulating a growing database of independent contractors looking to carry out this foreseeable future of upcoming events." When asked if contractors on the platform would be asked to interact with evicted tenants, Civvl did not reply.
On its agent onboarding portal, Civvl allows contractors to sign up to take on work as a process server or an eviction agent. While it does not provide clear duties for each role, a process server is typically tasked with serving legal documents, in this case a notice of eviction, to a person. State laws vary, but some states require papers to be served directly to the person who is receiving the summons. An eviction agent can be involved in everything from cleaning out a property after a tenant has left or may even be asked to help in escorting or removing a tenant from a property. Again, state law varies on what exactly is allowed.
It does not appear that Civvl has had tons of luck attracting contractors. The mobile app, which is required for its contractors to use, has just four total ratings in the Apple App Store and 17 ratings in the Google Play Store, which reports that the app has more than 100 downloads. Users who have downloaded the app report being charged a $35 fee to process a background check, which is not advertised during the sign up process. Another reviewer warned that Civvl takes 30 percent of wages from each job completed. Some reviews claim to have found work on the app, though it is unclear if Civvl has actually been used to carry out the eviction process.
While Civvl might seem like some sort of commentary on the state of the American economy post-pandemic, it appears to be quite real and unbothered by the appearance that it is profiting off of people's misfortune. Vice previously reported that Civvl has ties to OnQall, a small on-demand task company that serves "non-urban communities." While OnQall appears to have played a role in developing Civvl's platform, the company denied any ties to Civvl's actual business. "We are not affiliated with the Civvl business," OnQall tells Mic. "We are only developers." OnQall directed questions about Civvl itself to Miki Nakajima. It is worth noting that the OnQall developer account did respond to a comment left on Civvl app in the Google Play Store, claiming to have looked up a reviewer’s name in a database to prove they never signed up for the platform.
Despite how Civvl may choose to paint them, Americans who can’ pay rent are not villains or scammers just trying to shirk responsibilities. Tens of millions of people are still feeling deep-rooted economic turmoil as the result of the coronavirus pandemic. Trying to turn those looking for work into enforcers of evictions against fellow members of the working class is about as scummy as it gets.