D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics officials are hoping that voter interest in the District's first referendum under city election law will draw a larger than usual turnout on Tuesday for an off-year election in which five seats on the Board of Education are at stake.

School board candidates are vying for two at-large seats and seats in Wards 2, 3 and 8. Referendum No. 001 calls for rejection of four key provisions of the Rental Housing Act of 1985 that was approved by the D.C. City Council in April by a narrow margin.

"We expect that the referendum will bring more voters than usual to the polls for an election such as this," said Leona Agouridis, public affairs specialist for the board. "Usually, we average 35,000 to 40,000 for school board elections. I expect it will be higher with the referendum on the ballot."

The polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Elections officials recommend that voters show up between 10 and 4 to avoid the peak voting hours.

The school board elections this year and in 1987 are for staggered terms as part of the city's effort to consolidate all school board races with even-year City Council elections. In Wards 2 and 8, voters will be choosing a candidate for a five-year term, while in Ward 3 and in the two at-large contests, the winners will serve three years.

The election for two at-large seats pits incumbents Barbara Lett Simmons and David Eaton against three challengers: Benoit Brookens, an economist and lawyer; Jacqueline B. Shillings, an administrative supervisor at D.C. General Hospital; and Phyllis Etheridge Young, a branch chief for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the Ward 2 election, Charles Briody, a Unitarian Universalist minister who teaches English and Latin at the University of the District of Columbia, is running against incumbent R. David Hall, who was selected by his colleagues as board president.

Five challengers in Ward 8 are seeking to unseat incumbent R. Calvin Lockridge: Lin Covington, Virginia H. Howard, Absalom F. Jordan Jr., William C. Lewis and Frank Sewell.

In Ward 3, school board member Wanda Washburn is unopposed.

The rent control referendum will poll District voters on four controversial "vacancy decontrols" that were written into the new rent control law, which was passed when the previous legislation was about to expire this spring. A vote in favor of the referendum would reject exemptions from controls for the following categories of properties:

*Single-family homes owned by fewer than 5 persons. Under the current law, these are exempted from controls once they are vacated.

*Buildings that were at least 80 percent vacant as of April 30, 1985. These are exempted from controls on a case-by-case basis at the owner's request, provided that tenants are properly relocated.

*Buildings that are declared "distressed" properties. These can be decontrolled under a new city program in which landlords can receive tax breaks, loans and grants to restore them.

*All rental units vacated after April 29, 1989. These are exempted from controls as they become vacant, but only if the city's rental vacancy rate is 6 percent or more, and only if a newly authorized rent subsidy program of up to $15 million is operating to assist low-income tenants. The most recent vacancy figure was 2.4 percent.

To vote absentee in Tuesday's election, voters may file ballots at Room 7 at the District Building today, tomorrow, Saturday and Monday between 8:15 a.m. and 4:45 p.m.