Six D.C. apartment owners and managers sued the city's elections agency yesterday in an attempt to change the proposed wording of petitions that tenant groups plan to use to collect signatures seeking a referendum on portions of the District's recently enacted rent control law.

The landlords contend in the suit filed in D.C. Superior Court that the so-called short title, the summary statement and the proposed legislative changes sought by the tenants are misleading and should be altered, according to the landlords' lawyer, Abraham J. Greenstein.

The landlords who sued are Richard R. Harps, president of the Washington Board of Realtors; James G. Banks, Joseph B. Borger, Francis X. Emmet Jr., Aulander Stevenson and Mary L. Sherburne.

In addition, Greenstein said that four business groups, the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, the Washington Board of Realtors, the D.C. Builders Association and the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, have asked to intervene in the case on the side of the building owners.

The tenants have sought to nullify four provisions of the rent control law, including one that in 1989 would possibly decontrol rents on apartments as they become vacant. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics has approved portions of the petition drive and is slated to consider it further on Monday.