Over the past decade, the gig economy has exploded as Americans began embracing the idea of flexible side jobs in an economy marred by the Great Recession and lowered job security. This independent contractor model has expanded to almost every industry — from transportation to hospitality to food delivery and now eviction services.
Gig economy platform OnQall has launched Civvl, a platform that allows landlords, property managers, real estate agents, banks, plaintiffs, courts and estates to hire independent contractors to post eviction notices, assist with eviction extractions, complete foreclosure clean outs and serve lawsuits.
The platform launched in May; however, a scathing report by Motherboard on Monday thrust the company into the spotlight as millions of Americans face the reality of evictions, foreclosures and homelessness.
“During a time of great economic and general hardship, Civvl aims to be, essentially, Uber, but for evicting people,” author Ashwin Rodrigues wrote. “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.”
Civvl said it’s available in all 50 states and Canada and offers independent contractors the opportunity to “make good money” with minimal requirements to become a Civvl contractor. Applicants must be over 18 years old, have smartphone access, pass a “minimal background check” and reliable transportation.
Craigslist advertisements for Civvl claim contractors can earn up to $2,000 per week and receive payments through the Square-backed CashApp platform. However, Civvl’s iOS app ratings reveal what their website and Craiglist ads don’t: a $35 application fee and a dearth of job opportunities to assist with evictions or serving lawsuits.
“Let’s assume my account is approved (and if I’m not, I’m out of $35, a scam) the jobs are decoy jobs,” user North McCormick wrote on Monday. “They’re generalized jobs that lead nowhere and are not made by legitimate renters.”
“Aside from this app being a scam for people trying to get work during a pandemic, they are ruining people’s lives for money,” McCormick added. “I strongly suggest Apple remove this app for not following review guidelines, like not telling your users it costs money to make an account.”
“They should be ashamed of themselves,” he concluded.
Twenty-seven of the 28 ratings carry the same sentiment, with users calling Civvl “evil,” “a scam” and “vile” for attempting to take advantage of people desperate for work and endangering homeowners and renters who have nowhere to go during a pandemic.
“Not falling for another scam where I pay to work,” another user added. “Should be removed from the Apple store.”
Beyond the questionable ethics of Civvl, multiple housing advocates told Motherboard the platform puts its independent contractors at great legal risk as the Centers for Disease Control and multiple state governments have placed a moratorium on evictions while coronavirus infection and death rates continue to soar.
“Legal court evictions are on hold,” Metropolitan Tenants Organization hotline counselor Javier Ruiz told the publication. “But most of these management companies, they’re not necessarily evicting people through courts.”
“They’re just evicting people through pressure,” Ruiz added. “So that’s why I see a company like [Civvl] would be coming in.”
Civvl and its parent company OnQall make it difficult to find the legal terms in place for its contractors, as their websites and social media platforms are locked or offer little to no information about where the companies are based or who runs them. Civvl has no FAQ or customer service tab on its site and OnQall’s FAQ section requires users to create an account to view.
However, Civvl’s four-step application provides a clue into how the company would handle a lawsuit against one of its contractors. It’s clear: Contractors are on their own.
“There are many advantages of being an Civvl; you can make extra money, control your own schedule, market yourself, find new clients, be your own boss,” the disclaimer read. “You are your own business and will be working as an independent contractor for your Clients that you connect with on the Civvl platform.”
“You are not an employee of Civvl,” it continued. “We don’t supervise, direct or control your work — you are responsible for how you present yourself to your Clients.”
Property litigation expert George Lagos told legal site Bisnow “there’s nothing specifically that says [Civvl] isn’t allowed” in Florida, the state where the company is based and landlords can begin filing for evictions in time for an Oct. 1 moratorium deadline.
Furthermore, tenant advocate Eric Hauge said the protections provided by the CDC eviction moratorium isn’t automatic — tenants must prove they received a CARES Act stimulus check, have tried to get other forms of government assistance and absolutely cannot afford rent.
Those requirements make it easier and legal for Civvl to help landlords evict tenants who haven’t qualified for CDC protections.
“What I would be concerned for on a national basis is they’re probably going to appeal to some of the types of landlord who doesn’t want to do the dirty work themselves to get somebody out illegally,” Hauge explained to Bisnow. “There are some hoops tenants have to jump through to be protected by the CDC suspension.”
Motherboard’s story went viral on Twitter, with users noting Civvl has locked its account and has blocked all detractors, including the Motherboard reporter who broke the story. Civvl and OnQall have also stopped responding to media requests.
“Civvl’s marketing language that portrays underwater tenants and homeowners as scammers looking for an excuse to skip out on their obligations is not only factually inaccurate, but plays into a general victim-blaming PR myth perpetuated by the real estate industry to justify their exploitative business practices,” the Autonomous Tenants Union told Motherboard.
“For a company like Civvl to merely exist is a frank admission that our housing system is predicated on violence.”